In the past day or two, you probably heard something along the lines of: "AT&T and Verizon are "throttling" Netflix." Originally, John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, made a claim that led to such statements. Many outlets ran with the story, but AT&T and Verizon quickly and flatly denied any claim of throttling Netflix content - and AT&T and Verizon aren't exactly likely to lie about something like that in a public statement. This seemingly put Legere in a corner: did John have bad information? Well, it turns out the situation is a little more complex than all that, and while what John Legere said was technically true, it doesn't exactly ring that way in the practical sense. Let's do a bit of Q&A on this whole situation.
Do Verizon and AT&T throttle Netflix content down to 360p?
No. Verizon and AT&T take no active role in the delivery of Netflix content on their respective mobile networks. This is where John Legere's original statement on the whole situation comes off misleading: "And the duopoly is actually delivering your Netflix content at 360p. I'll bet you didn't know that. Go check; it's true."
AT&T and Verizon aren't doing anything. But, as you might suspect, there is a substantial truth in what Legere said, as well.
Does Netflix stream at 360p on Verizon and AT&T?
Yes. And Netflix has now admitted that it is the party responsible. Netflix has chosen to do this on the two networks that no longer offer unlimited data plans to all customers - Verizon and AT&T. Specifically, Netflix had the following to say.
We believe restrictive data caps are bad for consumers and the Internet in general, creating a dilemma for those who increasingly rely on their mobile devices for entertainment, work and more. So in an effort to protect our members from overage charges when they exceed mobile data caps, our default bitrate for viewing over mobile networks has been capped globally at 600 kilobits per second.
In other words: AT&T and Verizon customers will see 600Kbps stream quality caps on Netflix, which means the video content comes down at 360p. But what about T-Mobile, or even Sprint?
Does Netflix throttle on T-Mobile and Sprint?
No - not as far as we know. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Netflix said it does not cap video quality on T-Mobile or Sprint, because "historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies." I find this a bit odd given both T-Mobile and Sprint have long pushed data plans with caps, hard or soft, though both admittedly do still offer unlimited data plans, while AT&T and Verizon only have such plans for grandfathered users or, in AT&T's case, bundled DirecTV subscribers.
Will AT&T and Verizon customers continue to be throttled by Netflix?
No. Netflix has stated that once the company's mobile data saver toggle in the Android app rolls out to all customers some time in May this year, it will no longer conduct network-based throttling of content.
The data saver feature will provide members with more control over their data usage when streaming on mobile networks, allowing them to either stream more video under a smaller data plan, or increase their video quality if they have a higher data plan. We’re on track to make it available to members sometime in May.
Regardless of your network of data plan, turning the toggle off should enable full-quality streaming at whatever level your connection is capable of handling. Which means what John Legere said is about to matter significantly less in, give or take, a couple of months. Funnily enough, an AT&T senior vice president was still "outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video," which to me really reads as: "we're outraged we haven't been reaping data overage fees and increased data cap subscription rates because Netflix is throttling videos." Verizon, apparently, didn't really care, saying they simply "deliver the video content at the resolution provided by the host service, whether that's Netflix or any other provider."
End of the day takeaway? Verizon and AT&T subscribers will experience 360p as the maximum quality for Netflix until May, at which point you'll be able to turn off the "mobile data saver" feature in the Netflix app. And then none of this matters anymore. Got it? Good.