There was some troubling info floating around the internets in the last few days; most notably this report from the ArsTechnica, wherein Verizon has basically admitted to doing “Verizon” things. While the current FCC chair is very interested in making net neutrality a thing of the past, it is still the law of the land for now. And under it, Verizon’s blatant throttling of a service like Netflix is in violation of it.
ArsTechnica had reports of people using 2 seperate speed testing tools (1 from Netflix, and the other the popular Ookla Speedtest app) were getting different download speeds while in the same area using the same device. The obvious draw here is that Netflix (in all its forms, from the actual video service to its testing app) was being “throttled” or having its download speeds capped at a distinct amount by the service provider (which in this case was Verizon) – this is a practice that is explictly prohibited by the Title II FCC regulation. When asked for comment, Verizon admitted to the throttling, and their official statement follows:
“We’ve been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”
While the FCC regulations do have exceptions for network management, its clear that this “wiggle room” part of the regs could have the potential for abuse, specifically considering that Netflix was the service “being tested for performance” (as was YouTube later claims indicate) and Verizon is well known for their public opposition to things like their legacy unlimited plans. This was discussed even before 4G LTE was even a thing, like this statement from Lowell McAdam in 2010. So clearly managing their data as a scarce resource to generate additional revenue streams has been a focus of Big Red from very early on.
Here we are in 2017, and this kind of nonsense is still going on. Verizon folks correctly forecast data usage as the “next big thing” and wanted to monetize it as quickly as possible, but took an agressive stance towards those customers who stayed on their legacy “unlimited” plans and did everything they could to get them off it. And even when customers are paying for tiered data, they are looking for ways to control the usage of that data. These same arguments were used back in the early days of mobile telecom, when they cited that allowing phones with unlocked bootloaders on their network could potentially cause harm to that network, even though AT&T and T-Mobile did allow such devices and there were zero documented instances where damaged was caused by those using unlocked phones there.
Verizon as a corporate entity exists for one driving purpose; to generate profits for the stockholders who own the company. Their business and yes, even their customer service practices are designed to enhance that agenda. Only by voting with our dollars (and moving away from their service) can we as consumers have our voice be heard. Choice is a powerful thing, and Verizon was forced to bring back their “unlimited” data plans as a result of forces in the marketplace. Sadly, many of those living in rural areas of the United States don’t have much choice, as Verizon’s legacy coverage and infrastructure in 3G/4G service has had a very lengthy head start.
What we have is a company with a near monopoly in certain areas doing things which are anti-consumer, as well as likely in violation of federal regulation, with little to no oversight or accountability. And those using their service have almost no choice but to stick it out or suffer potentially significantly worse service and consequences. So yes, Verizon is a bad company doing bad things – and there is little being done to change that.