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You Don't Have to Be Mad About Netflix 'Throttling' Your Data

Netflix is doing it for your own good. For now.


Late Thursday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix has been “throttling the quality” of their videos on AT&T and Verizon wireless networks. People got mad: No one likes their “House of Cards” binge compromised by forces outside their control.

The weird thing is, people are mad at Netflix. And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Netflix says that it has been intentionally slowing down the speed on most carriers worldwide, including AT&T and Verizon, for about five years now. Last week, people caught on to what was happening, and suspicion initially lingered on the wireless networks (thanks to T-Mobile CEO John Legere) before Netflix came forward.

Predictably, people are pissed. They say that Netflix has been a big, fat hypocrite for fighting on the side of “net neutrality” advocates against major Internet service providers like Comcast, while reducing the streaming quality of its own content.

ISPs and wireless networks like Verizon and T-Mobile, which have toyed with zero-rated services that don’t charge customers for using data on preferred apps, are generally considered to be opponents of net neutrality in practice, even if their leaders insist otherwise.

Netflix, to many people, has been considered one of the “good guys,” which is an easy mantle for Netflix to take up because it only provides content, not Internet service.

Netflix says that it has slowed its speeds because most people who stream mobile video on Netflix would radically exceed their monthly data allowances if it didn’t. Here’s Netflix in the Wall Street Journal:

The fact that Netflix, not the carriers, is responsible for the lower quality illustrates the dilemma mobile-app makers face with data caps. The majority of all traffic on wireless networks is video, so providers must balance video quality against data consumption. Watching two hours of HD video on Netflix would consume up to 6 gigabytes of data, Netflix says. That is an entire month’s allowance under an $80 a month Verizon plan.

That sounds pretty reasonable! Gizmodo smartly points out that Netflix’s secretiveness about throttling speeds is incongruous, since it doesn’t really violate principles of net neutrality. Why? Because Netflix is discriminating against its own content, not against other video that is being sent through metaphorical pipes that it operates.

You could make the argument that Netflix is doing the ISPs’s dirty work for them, hiding how tough it is to stream HD mobile video without incurring insane data charges and masking just how much those ISPs are ripping off consumers. And here’s one other possibility to consider: This could also be a way for Netflix to urge its consumers to lobby their wireless carriers to get Netflix onto zero-rated services.

But Netflix isn’t suddenly against net neutrality. It wants people to watch more stuff on Netflix, and as long as you can get charged $15 per extra gigabyte you use per month on your smartphone, this might be the price of doing so.

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