Is Netflix Playing a Dirty Game?

Published: Apr 26, 2016 00:30am EDT
By Dylan Moore, for Konsume Technology

Please Note: This article was updated Apr 26, 2016 @ 01:47pm EDT


To those who have been following the net neutrality debacle, it might seem as if Netflix is going back on much of what it lectured the ISPs about. Not too long ago, Netflix wrote a public letter to its customers and anyone else who would read it. This letter essentially chastised Comcast and other service providers for holding back the connection to Netflix that their subscribers have. Under this mode of operations between the ISPs and Netflix, you are not in control of your streaming quality, or even when you can use your Netflix account, because your service provider has the tap on a trickling volume and you cannot use your full bandwidth.

However, as recent news indicates, Netflix has been artificially capping the speeds to users themselves depending on which network they are a part of (Verizon FiOS, Comcast, etc.). This sounds intuitively hypocritical of the streaming giant to take part in doing, but it's much different from the streaming side-of-things and it will become more clear why Netflix would make this decision.

The notion of net neutrality is centered around the prevention of ISPs limiting speeds to certain networks. You can't fault Netflix for slowing down the connection from certain ISPs, at least not as a betrayal of the net neutrality they wrote about in their public letter. If those companies we get our internet from claim that the bandwidth capping on Netflix is "good for network management", then Netflix is simply protecting their network by doing the same, and practically guaranteeing that customers all over the world end up blaming their ISPs. Bandwidth caps are about lucrative scarcity, and avoiding maintenance costs for the network. Netflix has to make the money that the ISP is not putting forth toward their network, even if the methodology behind how they do it is sour and not symbiotic.

Netflix might gain some leverage out of this decision, but it depends on how customers and users alike see the deficit. Companies like T-Mobile have an "uncapped Netflix" package called "Binge On" and this presents a fantastic case for supply-and-demand, as usual. As Netflix begins to strain the relationships with service providers, their customers will begin to notice and look for advantages elsewhere. ISPs have a hard time with justifying the bandwidth people use on Netflix because it is, without a doubt in most homes, the majority of download data. This makes it that much worse when the main, intensive thing people use their network for begins to slow down.

Where will they go? Where there are greener pastures, of course. T-Mobile is the first of these companies that have noticed the trend, it would seem. They've even taken to Twitter to post memes about how their quality far surpasses the streaming quality that Verizon and AT&T users are getting. It's hilariously vicious of them, but this is exactly what users need.

The transparency of a company like Netflix has always been refreshing. How do you talk about the data caps as a service provider like AT&T without sounding like a huge-gantic jerk? You can't very well tell your thousands of customers that you're artificially limiting them. Netflix can, however. This is all of the more reason for Netflix to look like the good guy in the end. The user interface changes that need to be made will further educate users regarding their position on the bandwidth totem pole. Soon, users will have to choose between a high-bandwidth stream and a low-bandwidth stream. We imagine that it will be like YouTube's quality settings. The problem for the customers arises when most of them have been throttled down to 480p on an 80$/month plan from Verizon.

The ISPs like AT&T have responded in a couple of instances and claimed "outrage" at Netflix's practices. Should this be the intention, the ISPs are often seen lobbying for the elimination of the FCC's net neutrality rules. In this event, the extremes of this situation come to life and it's possible that this is the beginning of that path anyways. Most people don't want to have to worry about net neutrality. They want to watch Netflix and chill.

Even if things improve as a result of Netflix being able to play a better game of chicken then the ISPs, consumers are still being harmed no matter how we choose to look at it. The extremes of the situation would include absolute transparency by Netflix, showing users as their content is being played, that their ISP is limiting ("throttling") them. Would this get them to switch to a company like T-Mobile if it were an option? In the future, are more ISPs going to add a channel of mobile data specifically allowed for watching/streaming content like T-Mobile?

It's a long battle in order for Netflix to get what they want, and what they believe is right. The angry letter to the ISPs shouldn't be rewritten, but Netflix is officially playing dirty by picking-and-choosing which parts of the law they wish to follow. A means to justify an end, Netflix.  


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