FCC Says Netflix Throttling Itself Isn’t Against Net Neutrality

Recently the popular streaming service Netflix admitted that when it comes to mobile phones accessing their system, they reduced the video quality on most mobile networks to help avoid excessive data usage. This caused an uproar given Netflix’s stance on the topic was to support the concept of Net Neutrality (the idea being that all traffic on the internet is equal and, therefore, shouldn’t be prioritized or capped based on its content). It nows seems that the FCC have stated where they stand on the matter.

The FCC’s Chairman Tom Wheeler stated that the Federal Communications Commission had no intention of investigating the service for throttling its own streams. Critics of Netflix agree with the idea that the FCC’s ruling on net neutrality applies to internet service providers, those that provide the entirety of the internet to you rather than just a service within the internet. Even with this agreement, they want the company investigated, with Wheeler clarifying that they “do not regulate edge providers”. An edge provider in this case is what the FCC title online content providers, the ones that actually use the internet to provide a service rather than provide access to the internet itself.

This comes at a time when the FCC are openly investigating mobile providers for their internet usage systems, with companies like TalkTalk offering their Binge service, a service which allows you to stream unlimited amounts of content from select providers that have partnered up with TalkTalk.

Where do you stand? Should companies be allowed to reduce quality to ensure you get a smooth service without additional costs? Should they be allowed you provide you with “unlimited content” from select providers?

Netflix Admits It’s Been Throttling Video for Mobile Streamers for Years

People have always been wary of companies when it comes to mobile data, with rumours T-Mobile was throttling connections for videos that weren’t signed up for their binge service. This seems to be common practise though with Netflix coming out and admitting that it’s been throttling connections for years.

Mobile data is a big topic these days, with more and more people using their phones to connect and browse the web while on the go. These matters only get bigger when people begin watching movies or streaming shows on the morning commute to work.

With companies like Netflix accounting for 35% of internet traffic, you can’t help but feel like they have a responsibility to help people out avoid the large charges that companies place on data use. Netflix admits that it has been throttling streams at 600 Kbps for mobile services, that is unless you are with Sprint and T-Mobile who Netflix state “historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies”.

AT&T weren’t overly happy, releasing the following statement:

“We’re outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs.”

To be fair to the company, Netflix is looking at becoming more data efficient, including the re-encoding of re-encoding of its entire media library entire media library in order to help shave off those extra Kbps that will cost you. If you think this is something new, the company stated that it has been doing this for more than 5 years in order to “protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps”.

No matter what you think of the company, no one seems to have noticed it before (can’t have been that big a deal could it?) and they were doing it for the right reasons so I don’t see how Netflix has done anything wrong other than not inform people before regarding the process.

YouTube Claims T-Mobile’s ‘Binge On’ Plan is Throttling Videos

T-Mobile has won a host of US customers due to its liberal policy towards internet data usage, selling itself as the nation’s “un-carrier”, with particular plaudits aimed at its Binge On data plan, which allows free streaming of online videos (but at lower resolutions) without eating into customers’ data allowances. YouTube, however, have blamed the policy for throttling its videos down to 480p, despite the service not being an affiliate of Binge On, according to the Wall Street Journal (paywalled, via BGR and MacRumors).

“Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent,” a YouTube spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

This assertion has been corroborated by The Internet Association, which says that T-Mobile’s Binge On “appears to involve the throttling of all video traffic, across all data plans, regardless of network congestion.”

When asked for comment, T-Mobile did not address the issue directly, choosing instead to boast how its customers enjoy “free streaming video that never hits their data bucket” and “the quality of their video experience and the complete control they have.”

T-Mobile’s Binge On plan is currently under investigation by the FCC to determine whether it adheres to the new net neutrality laws in the US.

Comcast VP Claims Data Caps are Business Policy & Not Technical Necessity

Many of you with home internet plans may have to deal with monthly data caps. For some this cap can be a real pain as a full household streaming and consuming content can easily rack up the gigabytes. While ISPs claim many different reasons to justify their caps, one common excuse is that the heavier users should pay more if the network infrastructure is not capable of handling the constant load.

Major US ISP Comcast  recently started rolling out a 300GB “data cap” in certain regions. While the company is loath to call it a cap since customers can go over it, the heavy overage charges essentially make it a cap. When questioned about the low cap, VP of internet services Jason Livingood tweeted that-

No idea—I’m involved on the engineering side to manage the measurement systems but don’t weigh in on the business policies”.

Implicit in that statement is that the data caps are managed as a business policy and that there is no real engineering or technical need for data caps. This makes a lot of sense as data caps do not help manage network usage at any point in time, rather, they only control the total usage over a month. Congestion however, happens on a very small time scale, meaning time-based limits would make much more sense, with users moving their more bandwidth heavy but not urgent usage to off-peak times.

This statement from Livingood pretty much confirms that Comcast, and probably many other ISPs, only have data caps in place so they can charge customer overage fees. Given the ever increasing bandwidth demands and the relatively low caps, ISPs can pretty much reap in the extra cash without having to really do anything. Why do you think data caps exist?

AT&T Says NO to the FCC’s $100 Million Throttling Fine

If you read about it, AT&T just got fined last month for allegedly throttling customers with ‘unlimited’ data plan. To sum it up, the FCC saw that AT&T had been “severely” slowing down users while not telling those users about the caps placed on their speed. So, they decided to fine them with a staggering $100 million.

If you think the FCC is asking for a lot of money, they apparently aren’t. According to them, they first decided to fine AT&T with up to $16,000 per violation for millions of violations, but the figures were so ridiculously high that they went with the latter sum instead. Even so, AT&T now thinks that they did nothing wrong.

“The Commission’s findings that consumers and competition were harmed are devoid of factual support and wholly implausible,” AT&T wrote in a response to the FCC. “Its ‘moderate’ forfeiture penalty of $100 million is plucked out of thin air, and the injunctive sanctions it proposes are beyond the Commission’s authority.”

AT&T now states that the FCC is infringing their First Amendment right by demanding the company to tell customers of their FCC rule violation. But let’s face it, when you say ‘unlimited’, you don’t really mention about network slowdowns. Another interesting thing is that AT&T recently changed their policy for throttling LTE users after they pass 5GB of data. This means that unlimited data LTE users now get throttled during the time when the network is highly congested. Previously, unlimited data LTE customers used to get throttled for the rest of the month after passing 5GB of download. But despite AT&T’s attempts to convince the FCC it did nothing wrong, they are also facing a court order from the commission, which aims to bring millions of dollars of refunds to consumers.

In my opinion, throttling customer speeds, either on mobile data or the fiber optic speed you ‘get’ at home is not an option. I know a lot of internet providers face huge amounts of network congestion, but is that our or the network’s fault? I think mobile and ISP providers should focus on spending that money on upgrading their networks to handle more connections instead of keeping the speed throttling habit. What do you think?

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information

Comcast and Verizon Lowered Speed to Cogent below 0.5Mbps

New detailed measurements have been released displaying exactly how much throttling of traffic was done by major US ISP’s Comcast and Verizon through to Cogent – a backbone operator of Netflix traffic. As almost everyone in the United States discovered over the span of the last year, traffic through to Netflix got bad – really flipping bad. A new study released by M-Lab data has a detailed analysis of just how terrible the throttling from both Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast made it for traffic passing through to Cogent. The study reveals a detailed insight into traffic through the ISP’s over the span of a 5 year period, of which between late May through to February of this year – traffic trickled down to a ludicrously slow 0.5mbps speed. It’s no wonder Netflix was failing to stream for most US citizens.

“Using Measurement Lab (M-Lab) data, and constraining our research to the United States, we observed sustained performance degradation experienced by customers of Access ISPs AT&T, Comcast, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon when their traffic passed over interconnections with Transit ISPs Cogent Communications (Cogent), Level 3 Communications (Level 3), and XO Communications (XO),” researchers wrote. “In a large number of cases we observed similar patterns of performance degradation whenever and wherever specific pairs of Access/Transit ISPs interconnected. From this we conclude that ISP interconnection has a substantial impact on consumer internet performance—sometimes a severely negative impact—and that business relationships between ISPs, and not major technical problems, are at the root of the problems we observed.”

“The three degraded Access ISPs [Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon] failed to achieve median download throughputs above 4Mbps when connecting over Cogent in New York City for most of the period between Spring 2013 and March 2014,” M-Lab wrote. “While daily median download throughput overall hovered around 4Mbps, performance degradation was much worse during peak use hours. For much of the time between Spring 2013 and March 2014, download speeds during peak use hours remained well below 4Mbps. By January 2014, the download throughput rate during peak use hours for Comcast and Verizon traffic over Cogent’s network was less than 0.5Mbps, the minimum rate necessary for web browsing and email according to the FCC. Note that only between 2:00 AM and 1:00 PM were the three affected Access ISPs able to attain speeds above 4 Mbps across the Transit ISP Cogent.”

The full dataset of information from M-Lab has been published online, and is available for viewing here. One thing is for certain after going through the findings – the internet is in for a bumpy ride if strong net neutrality laws and regulation checks aren’t brought into place. The wild west could start to get a lot wilder.

Thanks to M-Lab for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Slate.