Netflix Will Offer Choice by Throttling Video

A Netflix decision to offer a voluntary, user-initiated “throttling” of Netflix video streams illustrates the value--perhaps even the wisdom--of allowing consumers to make their own choices.

Conversely, the Netflix decision also highlights what some would say is a defect of network neutrality rules, namely the outlawing of quality of service measures that actually benefit consumers.

Netflix now says it will “soon introduce a data saver feature designed for mobile apps,” according to Anne Marie Squeo, a member of the Netflix communications team.

The data saver feature will allow them to either stream more video under a smaller data plan, or increase their video quality if they have a higher data plan, Squeo says.

Choice, in other words, is what Netflix now plans to offer. But choice also includes a default “throttled” bitrate.

“Our default bitrate for viewing over mobile networks has been capped globally at 600 kilobits per second,” says Squeo. “It’s about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers.”

Some would say “choice” is the heart of the matter. Consumers have the ability to lower resolution, to save on potential usage charges, or increase resolution, even if that means higher data consumption.

“This hasn’t been an issue for our members,” she notes.

To be sure, when a single company such as Netflix decides to set a lower default rate for streaming, while allowing users to set higher resolution, that raises no antitrust issues, as might be the case if access providers were able to favor their owned video streams over those of all providers.

Choice is a good thing. But some say the freedom Netflix has is more than ironic, given the prohibitions on ISP access policies. If choice is a prerogative that should belong to the end user and consumer, some might argue it should not matter “who” offers the choice (so long as the policies are not antitrust violations).
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