Netflix has long presented itself as a champion of unfettered access to Internet content. But those claims are ringing a little hollow after the company admitted Thursday that it deliberately slows down its streams for customers watching on the cellular networks of AT&T and Verizon.
Normally, Netflix subscribers need at least a 500 Kbps connection just to open a streaming TV show or film. The service recommends a connection that's at least six times as fast for normal viewing at standard definition.
But for more than five years, Netflix has capped its video stream to just 600 Kbps for AT&T and Verizon's wireless customers, the company told the Wall Street Journal Thursday. The reason? Well, because video uses up a lot of data, Netflix subscribers risked blowing past their monthly caps without the throttling. Not only does going over your limit result in sometimes stiff penalties, but it also may discourage users from continuing to watch Netflix. The throttling therefore helps ensure that consumers on AT&T and Verizon don't overuse their data -- and that viewers' binge watching habits won't get cut short.
Netflix originals to look forward to in 2016
Netflix originals to look forward to in 2016
1/14 House of Cards - Season Four - 4 March
Last time we were in Frank Underwood’s White House things weren’t looking to great for the President, his first Lady having just walked out on him. What will happen next in the critically acclaimed show is anyone’s guess.
2/14 Daredevil - Season Two - 18 March
Back in Hell’s Kitchen things were seemingly getting better. Kingpin is in prison and the crime syndicates should have dispersed - for the meantime at least. Unfortunately for Matt Murdoch, there’s a new anti-hero in town: The Punisher.
3/14 Flaked - 11 March
According to Netflix, Flaked is set in the insular world of Venice, California. It follows the “serio-comic story of a self-appointed 'guru' who falls for the object of his best friend’s fascination. Soon the tangled web of half-truths and semi-b******* that underpins his all-important image and sobriety begins to unravel. Arnett plays Chip, a man doing his honest best to stay one step ahead of his own lies.
4/14 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season Two - 15 April
Following the story of 29-year-old Kimmy Schmidt on her journey through New York, season two is set to start right where the last left us. The Tina Fey created sitcom has already been renewed for a third season, so you know this one has to be good.
5/14 The Ranch - 1 April
A comedy starring Ashton Kutcher. Based on a failed semi-pro footballer who returns home to a Colorado ranch. It also has some of the producers from Two and a Half Men behind it, which just happens to be one of the most successful shows of all time.
6/14 Marseille - 5 May
Netflix’s first French language original is a tale of ‘power, corruption and redemption’. Sounding like it could very well be the next Narcos.
7/14 Grace and Frankie - Season Two - 6 May
The tale of a retired cosmetics mogul and a hippie art teacher living together was a hit across the world, especially in the US. Starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the show has already been renewed for a third season.
8/14 Orange is the New Black - Season Four - 17 June
Another Netflix powerhouse, Orange is the New Black will see us returning to Litchfield Penitentiary. Prepare for more Piper, Alex and Red come June.
9/14 Stranger Things - 15 July
Eight-episode series starring Winona Ryder that follows a small community as they look for a young boy who has seemingly vanished. It all sounds quite scary.
10/14 The Get Down - August 12th
"Told through the lives and music of a ragtag crew of South Bronx teens, The Get Down is a mythic saga of the transformation of 1970s New York City.” Directed by Baz Luhrmann, this is sure to be as stylish as anything he’s done before.
11/14 The Crown - Spring
Starring Doctor Who actor Matt Smith, the period drama ”reveals the political rivalries and romance behind Queen Elizabeth II's reign and the events that shaped the 2nd half of the 20th century."
12/14 Luke Cage - Fall 2016
First appearing alongside Jessica Jones in her Netflix series, Luke Cage will pic up the pieces, seeing Cage come to terms with his super-strength and impenetrable skin. It is unknown whether Kathryn.
13/14 Narcos - Season 2 - Fall 2016
It’s back. The Netflix series hyped to match Breaking Bad was an astounding success around the world, apparently watched more than Game of Thrones. We’ll find out what happens to Pablo Escabar now he doesn’t have the protection of all his men.
14/14 A Series of Unfortunate Events - Fall 2016
Netflix is set to revisit the much-loved children’s novel, putting Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf in a show that looks so much creepier than the 2004 film. Not much else is known - i.e. casting - but Lemony Snicket is on board as executive producer, so get excited.
Netflix has been critical of the carriers' own approach to data speeds. In 2014, Netflix complained about congestion on Verizon's network that it claimed prevented customers from getting a smooth experience.
"As an ISP, you sell your customers a connection to the Internet," Netflix wrote to Verizon. "To try to shift blame to us for performance issues arising from interconnection congestion is like blaming drivers on a bridge for traffic jams when you're the one who decided to leave three lanes closed during rush hour."
Verizon always insisted that Netflix's claims were misleading, and threatened to sue.
In a blog post Thursday night, Netflix said its 600 Kbps speed cap applies to all mobile networks globally. But its business deals with some carriers complicate this picture. For example, Netflix participates in a T-Mobile program known as Binge On that exempts Netflix from user data caps entirely, allowing T-Mobile subscribers to watch as much Netflix as they like (albeit also at a lower quality to conserve bandwidth).
Netflix also said that it plans to roll out a set of tools, likely in May, that will allow users to fine-tune how Netflix uses their cellular data.
"The data saver feature will provide members with more control over their data usage when streaming on mobile networks," wrote Anne Marie Squeo, a Netflix spokesperson.
Netflix's admission somewhat undermines its efforts to shape Internet policy. The dispute with Verizon helped draw more attention to Internet providers' broadband practices, and it became one more flashpoint in the fight over net neutrality. At the time, Netflix advocated for strong rules that would prevent Internet providers from slowing down its content. But it now appears that even as the company asked regulators to ban throttling by carriers, it had no qualms about reserving that tactic for itself.
"We're outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent," said Jim Cicconi, a senior executive at AT&T.
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