Netflix reveals that it throttles video over mobile networks

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Netflix on Thursday disclosed that it throttles its own streaming video speeds when customers are watching through their smartphone data plan.  

The result is that by the company’s own standards it would be impossible to watch Netflix video in standard quality or high definition when on a mobile network. 

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The company said the throttling helps protect customers from extra charges when people go over their phone provider's mobile data cap. The company knows those overage charges could limit the amount of Netflix video people watch per month. 

“It’s about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers,” the company wrote in a blog post

The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix has used the method for the past five years. The company also told the newspaper that it does not limit video speeds at two carriers — T-Mobile and Sprint — because they “have had more consumer-friendly policies.”

The limited download speed — and reduced quality — has occurred with the largest providers in the United States, Verizon and AT&T. 

"We're outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent,” said AT&T Vice President Jim Cicconi. 

Netflix is sure to face more criticism for not disclosing the practice to its customers. It has been a strong champion of net neutrality rules, which are meant to bar Internet service providers from blocking or throttling Internet traffic. And it has battled providers over throttling in the past. 

Net neutrality rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission last year, however, only apply to Internet service providers like Comcast, which haul Internet traffic between users. The rules do not govern so-called edge providers — Web companies like Netflix that create content. 

In the blog, Thursday night, Netflix said it is coming up with a “data saver feature” in the next few months that will give customers more control of their video quality when watching on a mobile device. 

Currently, Netflix says it caps its streaming video on mobile networks to 600 Kilobits per second. On its website, the company recommends 1.5 Megabits per second and at least 3 Megabits per second for SD quality.