Sprint ditches 600 Kbps streaming video speed limit after outcry

Sprint (NYSE: S) quickly dropped a throttling limit on its new "All-In" data plans that limited streaming video to speeds of 600 Kbps after customers loudly complained about the policy.

"To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network," Sprint said in a footnote to its press release announcing the All-In plans, which combine a $60 per month unlimited plan with a $20 or more monthly device payment into one price point. "Streaming video speeds will be limited to 600 Kbps at all times, which may impact quality."

The plans were introduced yesterday, and Sprint quickly backtracked on the streaming video speed limit later in the day, after an outcry from users. A stream of 600 Kbps is considered by many to be too slow to reliably stream video. Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), for example, recommends a speed of 1.5 Mbps as its minimum broadband connection speed.

"At Sprint, we strive to provide customers a great experience when using our network," Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement. "We heard you loud and clear, and we are removing the 600 Kbps limitation on streaming video."

"During certain times, like other wireless carriers, we might have to manage the network in order to reduce congestion and provide a better customer experience for the majority of our customers," Claure added.

Sprint spokesman Doug Duvall told FierceWireless the carrier implemented the policy "in an effort to provide unlimited talk, text and a high-quality video experience while also preserving as much bandwidth as possible for other users. Our customers have asked that we change the limitation policy and so we are responding."

According to the WSJ, which cited an unnamed source, Sprint worked with an outside consultant who recommended the carrier limit speeds to 600 Kbps. However, Duvall said that Sprint "made the decision based on the customer experience research done by Sprint's User Experience Design team," which "conducted side-by-side experience demos showing video quality at different speeds."

Some experts think that the 600 Kbps throttling limit Sprint just discontinued violated the FCC's net neutrality rules. For example, Stanford University law professor Barbara van Schewick told the Journal: "If I'm the only one on the cell site there is no reason to limit me to 600 kilobits per second," she said. "I am really surprised that Sprint is engaging in this."

The FCC's rules say that providers cannot "impair or degrade" lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

However, Sprint argued that it was acting within the limits of the FCC's rules. "The FCC and industry understand that video streaming presents a unique challenge for mobile carriers and the FCC has specifically noted that mobile carriers need additional flexibility in managing a limited resource," Duvall said. "Sprint either disclosed that it was limiting throughput or specifically streaming video in the terms of all the plans on which the practice was used."

The FCC declined to comment on the topic, according to the Journal.

For more:
- see this Sprint release
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Droid Life article
- see this Android Central article

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