Verizon Now Throttles All Mobile Video

Last month, some Verizon users noticed that the company was capping video streams at the speed of 10 Mbps -- high enough for DVD quality, but significantly slower than the 25 Mbps needed for ultra high definition.

Faced with reports by consumers, Verizon acknowledged that it was "testing" a new traffic management system. This week, Verizon officially adopted a new video throttling policy.

As of Wednesday, the company is slowing video on all of its supposedly "unlimited" data plans. The company's $75-a-month plan will cap video at 480p -- considered DVD quality -- on smartphones and 720p on tablets, while the $85-per-month plan will cap video at 720p on smartphones and 1080p on tablets. Many pricey smartphones and tablets -- including ones sold by Verizon -- enable people to view video at higher resolutions.

Verizon's move comes six months after it introduced new unlimited data plans. Those plans proved popular, leading to a spike in subscribers. But the unlimited data option also may have resulted in more traffic than the network can handle. Open Signal recently reported that Verizon's average LTE download connection fell to 14.9 Mbps from 16.0 Mbps after the company introduced unlimited mobile data.

While it's understandable that Verizon wants to prevent congestion on its network, it's not clear why the company must throttle video all the time -- regardless of the state of network traffic -- to do so.

The current net neutrality rules broadly prohibit broadband networks from throttling content or applications, but allow carriers to engage in "reasonable network management."

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report endorsing T-Mobile's Binge On program, which allows consumers to stream unlimited video from a host of providers, but throttles speeds to DVD quality. That report, which was prepared by the prior FCC, was withdrawn this year by current Chairman Ajit Pai as part of a larger effort to overhaul the agency's approach to net neutrality.

Regardless of whether Verizon's approach marks a reasonable way to manage traffic, the move highlights carriers' questionable use of the phrase "unlimited data" to describe plans that actually come with fairly significant restrictions. Even before this week, Verizon said that during times of network congestion, it may throttle people on unlimited data plans who consume more than 22 GB in a billing cycle. Verizon isn't alone in this approach. T-Mobile, AT&T and Sprint also reserve the right to throttle wireless consumers who exceed arbitrary data caps.

3 comments about "Verizon Now Throttles All Mobile Video".
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  1. Dan Greenberg from Impossible Software, GmbH, August 26, 2017 at 9:58 p.m.

    "it's not clear why the company must throttle video all the time"

    If I may be so bold, let me offer an elucidating scenario. Suppose throttling is put in when the network is busy. Seems logical, right? OK, so a third party waits until the middle of the night and sets up some untrottled streams... and just lets them go.  Now, everyone wakes up and they get throttled because the network is busy serving those third-party streams.  Not fair? OK... but it may not be possible to throttle those third-party streams without interfering with them... and that's not fair to the third party. So, someone is going to be unhappy.

    By throttling all the time, this problem does not occur.  Everyone gets the same throttling all the time.

    But that's not fair? You want all the video all the time? OK - the network can be built out to handle that. But who pays for it? *All* of the users, even those who never stream video. And that's not fair to them, now is it?

    Net neutrality is a lot more complex in practice than some California sloganeering. I hear you that "unlimited" may not be a clear marketing term... but realize that reasonable network management benefits the vast majority of users... at the expense of the very few who hog "unlimited" bandwidth.

  2. Jack Stakked from Intertrode replied, August 27, 2017 at 2:26 p.m.

    I'll offer another scenario:

    1. Verizon sells "unlimited" data plans.

    2. Using the revenue from those sales, Verizon upgrades their infrastructure to supply the bandwidth necessary for unlimited data.  

    3. Verizon sells more "unlimited data plans as word gets out that they are an honest and reputable company.

    Alternatively, Verizon could continue as is but stop lying about the "unlimited" nature of their data plans.

  3. Dan Greenberg from Impossible Software, GmbH, August 27, 2017 at 7:58 p.m.

    Your scenario is unrealistic. It's a shared network. So, that brings two cases: there is one plan that fits all or there are multiple plans. In the case of the former, the revenue needs to support a worst case build-out... which means the plans are grossly expensive, demand drops, and the price must rise to generate the needed revenue. Rinse. Repeat.  Seems pretty unfair to me to ask that normal users subsidize the habits of the few data hogs.

    In the latter case, there is adverse selection. Most people will opt for cheaper plans with some limits. Only the data hogs will opt for unlimited. They are few, so no matter their rate, they will never generate enough revenue for a worst case. So, a data hog can easily overwhelm network capacity in a given area, unfairly shutting out regular users.

    Hence, we have the current situation. Technically, there is no limit on the amount of data you can take on an unlimited plan. There *is* a limit on the quality of the video. So, it's a debate on what the word "unlimited" modifies: the amount of data or the service as a whole.  It's clearly not the latter: there is a technical limit on total bandwidth available regardless of billing or marketing.

    There is no free lunch.

    As I said originally, I hear you that "unlimited" could be a deceiving marketing term.  That's up to the FTC to determine.

    Note that all of the above also works on the other end: should services that require a lot of bandwidth (e.g., Netflix, YT) be "unlimited"... or should they pay more for their access due to the burden on the network? Right now, net neutrality advocates the former... which is an enormous subsidy to the big companies (even though the net neutrality argument is that it's for the little guy).  Some of the big companies - Google in particular - have decided to invest in their own backbone with multiple points of presence.  Others prefer to use politics to force investment of OPM.  

    See? It's a bit more complicated than "net neutrality must be good."

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