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 That report, which was prepared by the prior FCC, was withdrawn this year by current Chairman Ajit Pai as part of a larger effort to overhaul the agency's approach to net neutrality.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.