New Netflix Feature to Help Users Avoid Exceeding Mobile Data Caps

Customers will be able to reduce the resolution of Netflix content on their mobile devices to use less data starting in May.

Netflix, data caps, throttling data, streaming data, streaming video, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, data saver

Netflix will soon roll out a data saver feature that will let mobile device owners use less data on their carrier's data plans when viewing Netflix content while on the go.

The feature is being rolled out because many mobile device users face restrictive data caps on their mobile accounts and may not be able to watch video content as much as they desire due to costly data charges, wrote Anne Marie Squeo, a member of the Netflix communications team, in a March 24 post on the Netflix Blog.

"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," wrote Squeo. The new feature is expected to roll out to Netflix customers in May.

"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," she wrote. "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. It's about striking a balance that ensures a good streaming experience while avoiding unplanned fines from mobile providers."

The data saving feature is part of the company's strategy of giving customers more control over their Netflix viewing, especially when using mobile service accounts, where their fees can be impacted by how much content they consume, she wrote. "This hasn't been an issue for our members. Our research and testing indicate that many members worry about exceeding their mobile data cap, and don't need the same resolution on their mobile phone as on a large screen TV to enjoy shows and movies."

Not all mobile data users will want to use the feature, she wrote, since "some members may be less sensitive to data caps or subscribe to mobile data plans from carriers that don't levy penalties for exceeding caps."

The data saver option will be offered to give Netflix customers the ability to "adjust their data consumption settings based on their video preferences and sensitivity to their ISP's data overage charges," she wrote.

In a related matter, Netflix disclosed on March 24 that it has been lowering the quality of its video feeds to mobile customers of AT&T and Verizon "to protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps," according to a story by The Wall Street Journal. Both wireless carriers were accused last week of performing the throttling on Netflix feeds on their own, but Netflix has now said it has been slowing mobile speeds down for about five years on its own, the story reported.

Interesting, Netflix has been a leading proponent of open Internet rules but has been "lowering the quality of its video for customers watching its service on AT&T or Verizon Communications wireless networks" without previously disclosing the practice, the story reported.

"Netflix said it caps its streams at 600 kilobits-per-second—much slower than what should be possible on modern wireless networks," the story reported.

T-Mobile's CEO, John Legere, raised the issue recently when he said that Verizon and AT&T customers were receiving lower-quality Netflix streams, but those carriers denied throttling Netflix videos, according to the Journal.

AT&T spokesman Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, told the Journal that his company is angry about the Netflix data practice. "We're outraged to learn that Netflix is apparently throttling video for their AT&T customers without their knowledge or consent," he said.