In a blog post published Thursday night, Netflix admitted that it caps its streaming video service rates for users on AT&T and Verizon because of those companies’ data overage fees, confirms a Wall Street Journal report . (It’s long been rumored that AT&T and Verizon are the ones to blame for bad video service.) While not mentioning either of those ISPs by name, Netflix explained:
[…] in an effort to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps, our default bitrate for viewing over mobile networks has been capped globally at 600 kilobits per second. It’s about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers.
So, while to some it appears as though it’s the broadband providers’ faults for not offering better data and pricing structures, some obviously fault Netflix for deciding to stream poorer video rates — especially because the company has been employing this practice for five years, according to reports. As the ITIF’s Doug Brake points out in a blog post, the practice is a bit hypocritical:
Netflix fought hard during the open Internet proceeding to ensure that broadband providers could not engage in this same behavior that would benefit the same customers in the same way. Most content providers already build adaptive bitrate algorithms into their streaming service, allowing the video to adjust its resolution to the network conditions. Adapting streams with a hard cap on data rates for resource-constrained mobile networks is not much different.
This issue calls to mind Netflix’s past problems with broadband providers — most of those net neutrality-based — and how it has continually painted itself as the champion of the free and open internet as opposed to the big ISP stalwarts. And the issue also clouds what once seemed like a transparent stance from the company on net neutrality.
Ultimately, users are left at a bit of a loss — namely, as to what they can do about this policy (if anything), and how to feel towards both Netflix and these broadband providers. It is a reminder that users’ web experiences are generally at the hands of the big guys, even if those guys say they are on your side.