Disclosures late last week that Netflix throttles, or slows the transmission speed of, video content streamed by customers of Verizon Wireless and AT&T have prompted calls for changes to FCC net neutrality rules that currently prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs)—but not over-the-top online video service firms such as Netflix—from engaging in the practice.
Responding to a Wall Street Journal report, Netflix spokeswoman Ann Marie Squeo confirmed that her company has been capping bitrates for video streams over the Verizon and AT&T mobile networks at 600 kilobits per second “in an effort to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps.” In defense of her company’s policy, Squeo pointed to research showing that many Netflix members “worry about exceeding their mobile data cap and don’t need the same resolution on their mobile phone as on a large screen TV to enjoy shows.” Squeo further explained that Netflix has applied this practice to Verizon and AT&T wireless subscribers for years but has not pursued a similar policy for customers of T-Mobile and Sprint, citing “more consumer-friendly policies” at those companies. However, as she touted the Netflix policy as one that “[strikes] a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers,” Squeo announced that Netflix will introduce a new “data saver feature” next month that will allow users to control mobile streaming speeds in recognition of the fact that some members “may be less sensitive to data caps.”
Notwithstanding plans by Netflix to implement the data saver feature, AT&T senior executive vice president Jim Cicconi censured Netflix for “throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent.” Other industry players, including the American Cable Association (ACA), seized on the Netflix announcement to highlight deficiencies in the FCC’s regulatory approach to net neutrality which ACA President Matthew Polka lamented as “one sided . . . because it leaves consumers unprotected from the actions of edge providers that block and throttle lawful traffic.” However, while Polka urged the FCC to “initiate a Notice of Inquiry into the practices of edge providers,” Doug Brake, a telecommunications policy analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, countered, “these are Netflix’s video streams, and it should be able to manage its data however it thinks it will best please its customers.” Brake further stipulated that “what is good for the Netflix goose should be good for the gander” in arguing: “if Netflix is free to manage its traffic to better serve customers, ISPs, who are in an even better position to understand the traffic patterns and dynamics at play within the network itself, should be able to do the same.”