Consumer Action Slams Netflix Over Slowing Speeds

Consumer Action is taking Netflix to the woodshed over the video site's slowing of traffic for some wireless ISPs but not others and without informing either the companies or their subs.

That could run afoul of new Open Internet rules if ISPs were the ones slowing the traffic, but edge providers like Netflix are not covered by the rules.

Consumer Action has recently come out in favor of FCC proposals on unlocking set-tops and new rules for broadband CPNI (customer proprietary network information), both of which are opposed by ISPs.

But in the case of Netflix, it says ISPs are the ones getting the short end of the stick, joining a host of critics that have weighed in since the practice was first revealed.

"Netflix’s underhanded tactics deceive customers and cast aspersions on Internet providers," the group said Wednesday.

Netflix’s recent admission that it has been automatically degrading the picture quality for AT&T and Verizon wireless customers is surprising and concerning," said Ken McEldowney, executive director of Consumer Action.

He also said it was a bit bewildering. "Not only does this action demonstrate a complete lack of transparency with customers, but the news is also confusing: Netflix settings have long allowed users to choose their own preferred balance of picture quality vs. data usage. "

And Consumer Action was not just concerned about the impact on consumers, but the harm the misimpression the practice could leave inflicts on ISPs. "And the harm doesn’t end with consumers. Most consumers that encounter video playback issues are likely to unfairly place the blame on their broadband providers. In fact, the Netflix admission came out because one mobile carrier incorrectly claimed that two of its major competitors were slowing customer’s viewing speeds. Surely there was a better way to 'help' consumers than by secretly slowing their streaming video entertainment and in doing so, casting aspersions on Internet service providers."

Netflix has said it slowed speeds to help keep customers below mobile usage caps. "Then why, we ask, would Netflix need to slow mobile users’ video speeds without their knowledge," said McEldowney. "The company says it was protecting consumers from exceeding their mobile data caps. We wonder how many consumers simply gave up rather than watch fuzzy video? Customers who pay a monthly fee to view unlimited streaming video content deserve to be able to watch it, not to be driven off their devices by frustratingly low resolution."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.