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Video services

What's a Little Throttling Between Friends?

I've been thinking about news that surfaced last week around Verizon throttling speeds for video content on its wireless network. Customers reported seeing their speeds capped at about 10 megabits per second for Netflix and YouTube streaming, and some suggested the caps were causing performance issues by degrading video quality.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) responded to the charges by saying it was temporarily testing out new traffic management techniques, but the company also stated emphatically that the tests did not affect the user experience.

So what's the deal?

Well first, a cap of 10 Mbits/s shouldn't have caused performance problems given that a standard Netflix stream only needs throughput of 3 Mbits/s to 4 Mbits/s. That said, however, users who experienced the issues are still correlating the two factors. So whether there was an impact or not, Verizon has now created a perception that it was penalizing customers for using over-the-top video services.

Second, as far as we know, users only experienced streaming issues related to the use of Netflix and YouTube. That inevitably brings up the question of whether Verizon was treating individual applications in different ways, and whether there are net neutrality implications to the whole mess.

Indeed, by the middle of Friday afternoon, I'd already received a missive from Free Press , which pointed to the throttling incident as a reason to continue fighting for net neutrality and the rollback of the Open Internet Order. Free Press noted that Verizon says the network optimization tests were applied equally to all video apps, including the telco's own Go90 mobile video service. But the email went on to argue that, "If Verizon's supposedly first-rate mobile network can't handle the load, why is it picking on video streaming instead of imposing a speed limit that applies to any bandwidth-intensive apps?"

In other words, Free Press was suggesting that if Verizon needs to introduce caps to handle streaming video demand, then it should apply those caps to all applications equally.


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I have a pretty simple philosophy on the event last week. Namely, Verizon could have avoided a whole lot of trouble if it had only explained what it was doing at the outset rather than letting users discover and potentially magnify the issue. This sounds like less of a net neutrality concern to me (assuming Verizon did treat all video apps the same) than it does a communications one, and unfortunately, it's the same kind of mistake that service providers seem to want to make over and over again.

Telcos and cablecos don't want to tell the public anything that sounds like bad news or could even be construed as such. They don't want to tell you they're raising prices. They'd rather insert hidden fees. They don't want to tell you they're phasing out a service. They'd rather extend the timeline for updates and hope you leave on their own. (See In the TV Biz, AT&T Walks a Tricky Line.)

And they don't want to tell you when they're capping speeds. They'd rather just hope you don't notice.

There's a problem with this approach, however. It doesn't work well in an Internet age where customers share information about their experiences almost instantaneously, and where it takes very little effort to compare those experiences and identify patterns.

A big part of the reason many broadband and pay-TV providers are hated is because they have no interest in being transparent. They could maybe get away with that approach when users had no context for evaluating their behavior, but that's simply not the case anymore.

Customers have a lot of information at their fingertips, and service providers really need to start accounting for that reality.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

kq4ym 8/3/2017 | 2:03:54 PM
Re: Throttling... It does seem we're not in for real transparency any time soon. The company marketing departments just don't want to give the facts to customers up front. Hoping no one reads the fine print and no one notices bad service isn't the best way to operate in the day of instant social media to alert the world to what's going on.
wanlord 7/27/2017 | 8:06:45 PM
Verizon Product Marketing Exec A typical Verizon Product Marketing Exec:

"For some strange reason, our customers are watching the hell out of amazing compelling content on Netflix...So let's throttle it to reduce the quality and load time, and it will annoy people enough to go and watch our crappy Go90 content and then will learn to love it"

Their boss:

"Brilliant, your promoted!!"

 

 
mendyk 7/26/2017 | 10:47:12 AM
Re: Throttling... The sooner we defer to the wisdom of our electronic betters, the better off we'll all be. A holiday without work -- sounds like a radical concept worth a tryout.
Gabriel Brown 7/26/2017 | 10:43:12 AM
Re: Throttling...  Yes. A bit like how my work mobile email has broken just as I'm about to go on holiday.  Smart thinking. There must be a very sophisticated autonomous system involved. Probably an AI.
mendyk 7/26/2017 | 10:20:16 AM
Re: Throttling... Maybe O2 is trying to do its customers a favor by not-so-subtly hinting that travelers might have better things to do than to stare at their various electronic devices.
Gabriel Brown 7/26/2017 | 5:35:19 AM
Re: Throttling... If you think Netflix at 10 Mbit/s is bad (I'm not too concerned in this context; cell capacity is a shared resource), spare a though for O2 UK customers who are limited to 0.5 Mbit/s should they go abroad in the EU.

A news article:

https://www.theregister.co.uk/AMP/2017/07/26/o2_fesses_up_to_throttling_network_abroad/

And the original customer thread:

https://community.o2.co.uk/t5/Pay-Monthly-and-Pay-Go/O2-EU-Roaming-versus-Vodafone-Three-Asda-BT-and-Tesco-Dublin/m-p/1060568#M131588 

The back story is that an EU rule to end to roaming fees within member countries has recently taken effect.  You could have sympathy with O2 were they caught by surprise. The thing is, operators have known about this for years
KBode 7/24/2017 | 3:40:22 PM
Throttling... Yeah, as numerous outlets have noted, the problem really isn't that they throttled video, since they all are at this point in some fashion, but they didn't tell anybody what they were doing, and when they did, basically gave a non-answer as to why only Netflix and YouTube were throttled specifically.

Expect LOTS more where this came from. I expect Ajit Pai to do absolutely nothing about any of it. 
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