Netflix introduces cellular data controls, sets default at 600 Kbps

As expected, Netflix today introduced cellular data controls to its mobile apps that will allow mobile users to adjust the settings of their Netflix video streams. The release of the feature comes just weeks after the disclosure that Netflix throttles the transmission of video it makes available to AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) because of those carriers' data overage charges.

"The default setting will enable you to stream about 3 hours of TV shows and movies per gigabyte of data," wrote Eddy Wu, Netflix's director of product innovation, in a post on the company's site announcing the new cellular data controls. Wu said that setting equates to 600 Kilobits per second. "Our testing found that, on cellular networks, this setting balances good video quality with lower data usage to help avoid exceeding data caps and incurring overage fees. If you have a mobile data plan with a higher data cap, you can adjust this setting to stream at higher bitrates. Our goal is to give you more control and greater choice in managing your data usage whether you're on an unlimited mobile plan or one that's more restrictive."

The new "Cellular Data Usage" feature is available on the latest version of Netflix's Android and iOS apps under the "App Settings," the company said.

Interestingly, Wu warned that Netflix's new settings don't necessarily change the settings that mobile carriers place on their video streams.

"As with all streaming, actual data usage can vary based on your device capabilities and network conditions," Wu noted. "Your mobile carrier also may impact the actual data usage even if you elect a higher setting in the Netflix app. This setting only affects data usage while viewing on your mobile device on cellular networks; streaming on Wi-Fi is not affected nor is streaming when tethered."

Netflix earlier this year expanded its service to more than 100 countries, essentially going worldwide.

In March Netflix said it caps its streams at 600 Kbps for AT&T and Verizon mobile customers to protect them from exceeding their monthly data buckets and thereby facing overage fees, which could lead to reduced viewing. The company took a different approach with its streams for T-Mobile and Sprint customers because those carriers slow users' network speeds rather than charging overages when users hit their monthly allotments.

Verizon and AT&T said they did not know of Netflix's throttling practices.

Netflix's throttling is also noteworthy in light of T-Mobile's Binge On service, which throttles the speeds of select streaming video providers including HBO Now and, more recently, YouTube. Binge On zero-rates the data from streaming video providers, thereby allowing customers unlimited access to those video streams.

Binge On, Netflix's throttling, sponsored data services and other video streaming business models and techniques continue to raise concerns among net neutrality proponents, who worry that such practices could give some bigger players competitive advantages over smaller companies. But T-Mobile, Netflix and others have argued that they are engaging in practices that provide better user experiences.

For more:
- see this Netflix post

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