Major mobile carriers have already started slowing down video streams. Last year, Verizon set off alarm bells among net neutrality advocates when customers reported that the ISP was throttling Netflix video. In a statement via Ars Technica and The Verge, the company said it was performing a brief network test. This net neutrality violation shows exactly what’s going to happen if service providers get their way and remove legal protections against data discrimination.
Back in July, some Verizon Wireless users in a Reddit thread noted their connections were capped at 10Mbps. The same results were shown using Netflix’s speed-testing tool Fast.com. Other users on Howard Forums reported that Verizon Wireless was also throttling download speeds from YouTube, so it seems the company was targeting in-demand video services.
At 10 Mbps, most users can stream 1080p video without seeing significant performance stuttering, though the people commenting on Howard Forums saw some buffering with 1440p videos. However, some users’ speeds reportedly tripled when they used a VPN to get around the alleged Verizon cap.
In a statement released to Ars Technica and The Verge, Verizon essentially admitted to capping the traffic, putting the issue down to a temporary video optimization test. The optimization appeared to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans, and the company’s spokesperson told reporters that the customer video experience had not been affected.
Verizon also used a clause of the Open Internet Order (OIO) to justify its video tests, citing “reasonable network management,” which is allowed by the current regulations. Their representative claimed that the test had been conducted across the board, and did not target any individual applications.
However, consumer groups have noted that the ISP had not been entirely transparent about its actions, which clearly contradicts the existing net neutrality rules.
Following the controversy, the company launched an interactive website designed to explain how WiFi works, complete with 360-degree visualizations that allow studying animated graphs in detail and from various standpoints. After receiving feedback on multiple aspects the website got wrong, Verizon took it down “for maintenance.”
Elsewhere, AT&T has launched a ‘just-in-time’ delivery technique, where “a sufficient amount of video is delivered to the device so that the user can start viewing the video.” However, using just-in-time means the video will stop playing if you lose reception. That wouldn’t be the case on a neutral network that wasn’t observing and throttling your traffic because larger portions of the content would be buffered in advance.
Until last year, Netflix throttled its own video streaming on Verizon and AT&T to just 600kbps to help users stay under their data caps. However, the company has since reversed the policy and claims that the recent Verizon problems weren’t on its end.
T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere has recently gloated that the Verizon and AT&T networks seemed to be “choking after we [T-Mobile] forced them to go unlimited.” Of course, it’s worth mentioning that T-Mobile’s unlimited plan also caps video services’ data rate. As Verizon’s spokesperson pointed out, “They’ve been doing this for a long time so either no one’s noticed or it’s generally been accepted as OK.”
That’s not only true but also says a lot about the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is supposed to regulate such situations. Basically, Verizon appears to be arguing that it wants to make its network worse so that it can compete with T-Mobile, as the FCC chooses to stand by and prepare to throw away the very principle of net neutrality.
On July 12, over 100,000 websites, organizations and Internet users took action against the FCC’s aim to roll back net neutrality regulations established by the Obama administration. The initiative was supported by Twitter, Amazon, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation among many others, including NordVPN.
Rolling back the net neutrality rules could open the door to many unfair practices like site blocking and throttling. It’s alarming that ISPs are already rolling some of these techniques out, even though the rules are still formally in place. What we see from these first attempts is an approaching race to the bottom in competition between networks, which is bad for everyone –– first of all broadband customers.
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