Last week, Netflix admitted that they artificially throttle the data rate of videos transmitted over AT&T and Verizon cellular networks to limit bandwidth consumption and the associated overage charges. Netflix doesn’t throttle video streams transmitted on other cellular networks like T-Mobile and Sprint that don’t charge for overages. The story was broken by the Wall Street Journal, who raised issues about net neutrality, and expended by PR Week. Streaming Learning Center chief blogger Jan Ozer played a role in both articles.
The Wall Street Journal reporter, Ryan Knutson, contacted the Streaming Learning Center, asking for help confirming that transmissions to AT&T/Verizon mobile devices connecting via cellular (rather than Wi-Fi) were artificially low, and to determine if Netflix or the cellular networks were causing the throttling. Knutson described his test procedures, and shared an existing YouTube video that seemed to indicate that streams to ATT/Verizon were throttled. Ozer duplicated and filmed the process in this video.
The difference in frame quality when connecting via cellular and Wi-Fi seemed to indicate that Netflix was calling a different manifest file depending upon the connection, which tended to point the finger at Netflix as the cause of the throttling. Knutson later confirmed that it was Netflix, not the mobile carriers, and reported that Netflix had admitted that this policy had been in place for about five years. In May, Netflix indicated, the company would update their apps to let mobile users control stream quality when connected via cellular.
A later PR Week story focused on the public response to the policy, and particularly whether there were any net neutrality issues. In the story, Matt Wood, the policy director at Free Press, clarified that Netflix was an Internet user, not a provider, so net neutrality issues didn’t apply to them. “It’s between them and their users,” Wood said. “Whether they’re the bad guy or not, it doesn’t do anything to change the argument for net neutrality.”
Ozer added that business concerns regarding overage charges relating to cellular video consumption almost certainly contributed to Netflix’s decision. He concluded, “If they had done this [disclosure] five years ago, maybe that would’ve been the smarter choice. But if it took five years for this come out, how big of a burden was it?”