If you watch Netflix on Verizon or AT&T, the streaming video service is keeping you from getting the full picture -- and it claims it's for your own good.
A week after the wireless carriers were accused of throttling video speeds on their networks, Netflix has stepped forward to take the blame for the degraded video quality. The popular streaming-video service told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday it has been slowing its video transmission on wireless carriers around the world, including Verizon and AT&T, for five years to "protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps."
Netflix now plans to shift some of that control to viewers themselves. In May, it expects to make a "data saver" feature for mobile apps available to some subscribers that would let them choose either to stream more, but lower-quality, video if they have a smaller-capacity data plan or to increase video quality if they have a less-restrictive plan.
"It's about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers," the company said in a blog post late Thursday.
Netflix has been a staunch supporter of Net neutrality, the idea that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. That means broadband providers can't block or slow down the online services or applications you use. It also means your Internet provider can't create so-called fast lanes that force companies like Netflix to pay an additional fee to speed up delivery of content to you.
However, the Net neutrality rules approved a year ago by the Federal Communications Commission don't apply to content companies like Netflix.
Controversy flared up last week when T-Mobile CEO John Legere alleged that Verizon and AT&T were throttling video speeds. The companies denied the accusation.
Los Gatos, California-based Netflix said that, to protect customers from overage charges, it caps video streams for mobile users at 600 kilobits per second, much slower than what's possible on today's wireless networks. Watching two hours of HD video on a wireless network would eat up 6 gigabytes of data, the allotment included in Verizon's $80 monthly plan.
But not every carrier is getting this treatment. T-Mobile and Sprint customers are exempt from the policy because "historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies," Netflix told the Journal. Rather than hit their customers with extra costs when they exceed their data limits, those carriers throttle wireless speeds. Mobile users typically consume an average of 3 gigabytes of data a month.
Netflix's reasoning doesn't take into account that AT&T has millions of customers on unlimited data plans who have been receiving degraded video quality despite not being subjected to data caps.
The revelation did not sit well with AT&T, the second largest US wireless carrier after Verizon.
"We're outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent," Jim Cicconi, head of legislative affairs for AT&T, said in a statement.
Verizon representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Netflix said in its blog post that it would provide more details about its data saver feature as it gets closer to the launch date.