After criticism, Netflix allows users to pick streaming quality on mobile

After criticism, Netflix allows users to pick streaming quality on mobile
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Netflix is now allowing users to increase the picture quality of its streaming video on smartphones and tablets — a reaction to recent criticism that the company has been throttling video streaming speeds over mobile networks. 

The company's mobile app will now allow people to choose how much data they want to use to stream video when on a mobile network — low, medium, high or unlimited — affecting the video's quality.

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It was revealed in March that for the past five years Netflix had been limiting the download speeds of its video when people were watching through mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon, preventing high-definition viewing on mobile. 

Many argue that high picture quality is unnecessary on small smartphone screens, and Netflix said it was a cost saving measure that allowed users to watch more video without bumping up against their monthly data caps imposed by wireless carriers. And it made business sense for the company: If users run up against their data caps quickly, they will likely cut back on how much they're watching.

"Our testing found that, on cellular networks, this setting balances good video quality with lower data usage to help avoid exceeding data caps and incurring overage fees," Netflix's product innovation director Eddy Wu said in a blog Thursday. "If you have a mobile data plan with a higher data cap, you can adjust this setting to stream at higher bitrates."

Critics had accused Netflix of possibly violating Federal Trade Commission rules for not disclosing its practices to users sooner. Others made net neutrality complaints, but the Federal Communications Commission has said Netflix did not violate any of its net neutrality rules.  

The default download speed setting will remain in place, according to the announcement Thursday. That setting — 600 kilobits per second — would allow people to watch about three hours of video with a single gigabyte of data. 

But now Netflix will allow subscribers to watch higher-quality video by changing the settings based on their wireless data plan. 

In the high setting, every hour of streaming would eat up 1 GB of data. In the medium setting, users could watch two hours of video with the same amount of data. The company is also offering a lower speed setting, which would let people squeeze four hours of streaming out of the same amount of data, but it would come with lower quality video. 

"Our goal is to give you more control and greater choice in managing your data usage whether you’re on an unlimited mobile plan or one that’s more restrictive," Wu said.