Netflix has been a vocal supporter of net neutrality for years, but behind the scenes, it turns out the company hasn’t been treating all customers the same. Netflix confirmed to the WSJ that it has been restricting the bandwidth of video for customers on AT&T and Verizon for five years.
Netflix says it’s been capping video streams at 600kbps, just about enough for a pixelated 360p video. It claims that by doing so, it’s saving the data cap of customers on AT&T and Verizon. The company says that it doesn’t throttle T-Mobile or Sprint customers because those carriers have “more consumer-friendly policies.”
The policy is understandable—Netflix doesn’t want people to get shocking data overage bills because of its app—but the secrecy is not. It also complicates Netflix’s stance as a net neutrality advocate. Net neutrality dictates that every site and service on the internet should be treated equally by internet service providers, so that Comcast can’t charge you more for going to Google rather than Bing.
Netflix throttling some customers doesn’t technically break that rule—Netflix isn’t an ISP—but it skirts dangerously close to breaking the principle of treating all packets the same. It takes the choice out of the hands of consumers, and ultimately creates confusion—as demonstrated in this case, where T-Mobile CEO John Legere originally thought that AT&T was responsible for the throttling.
Trying to protect customers against high bills is one thing, but it should be done transparently and sensibly. A secret, no-choice throttling regime against people with the wrong network is the exact opposite.