Netflix has confirmed it has been secretly throttling video streaming to AT&T and Verizon subscribers, but now promises an update to be more transparent is in the pipeline. The on-demand video provider had been delivering low-quality streams over the two largest cellular networks in the US, the WSJ revealed earlier this week, much to the surprise of customers of those networks since there was nothing disclosing such a strategy to them.
The revelation came after accusations by outspoken T-Mobile USA spokesperson John Legere, who slammed his rival carriers for allegedly knowing - but doing nothing - about the throttling.
Netflix has since confirmed the allegations, admitting that for the past five years it has been purposefully degrading the quality of content streamed to Verizon and AT&T phones. That, the company argues, was done in the best interests of its subscribers, however.
According to Anne Marie Squeo, part of Netflix's executive team, the company's aim was "to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps" by setting the default bitrate for mobile viewing to 600 kilobits per second.
"It's about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers," Squeo argues.
Data overage fees can, certainly, be near-extortionate, but the fact that Netflix made the decision unilaterally - and without offering any way to change it - has many frustrated. T-Mobile USA offers Netflix streaming without impact on a data cap as long as it's at a reduced quality as part of its BingeOn program, but subscribers can opt out if they want better quality but don't mind potentially paying for it.
Now, Squeo says, Netflix is going to adopt a similar strategy, and "will soon introduce a data saver feature designed for mobile apps."
Due to go live in May, the settings will give the option for reduced video quality tailored for those with low data caps, or better quality for those with larger data bundles.
Though Squeo makes it sound like Netflix was working on this all along, it's unclear how much of the granular control is in fact damage-control from the throttling exposé. Either way, having more say in what's using your data allowance according to your individual priorities can only be a good thing.