One of the tenets of net neutrality is that all Internet data should be treated equally. In practice, this means ISPs shouldn’t give one kind of data preference over another. In other words, they shouldn’t throttle data based on what they are. With net neutrality dead (except in California), consumer advocates fear that carriers are already taking advantage of their new found freedom. That is pretty much the implication in a recently published study that points out how popular video streaming services like YouTube and Netflix are being throttled by nearly all US carriers, big or small.
The numbers come via the Wehe app, developed by David Choffnes, that was designed precisely to monitor “differentiation” in network speeds. It watches when a type of network traffic has a different speed than other types of traffic, mostly due to throttling. In this particular case, it measures how fast a carrier delivers streamed video data compared to other network speeds at the same time. In some cases, the app reported the likes of Netflix downloading at 1.77 Mb/s (megabits per second) while normal network rates are at 6.62 Mb/s.
The study also names which carriers have had the most number of such differentiation activities, as reported by the app installed on more than 100,000 consumers’ phones. Verizon is at the top with 11,100 reported instances. This is followed by AT&T’s 8,398, T-Mobile’s 3,900, and Sprint’s 339. To be fair, the numbers are also based on the size of the network and the number of users on that network, so Verizon can probably gloat that it has the largest network based on this study. The streaming services getting throttled the most are YouTube, Amazon Video, Netflix, and Spotify, in that order.
Of course, carriers are denying they are doing any such throttling. They just do “network management” and aren’t singling out one network traffic over another. They do, however, manage those networks (throttling) depending on factors such as data caps, network congestion, video quality, etc. Sometimes, customers are told upfront when that happens, like in “unlimited” plans. Other times, you have to pay special attention to the legalese in terms of services that barely anyone reads.
According to Bloomberg’s report, carriers also say that customers can’t even tell their being throttled because they still get DVD quality videos. If they want higher def ones, they can always pay for more. Which is probably the end goal anyway.