Study: Wireless Carriers Throttle Video Continually
If you stream a lot of movies or video entertainment via one of the four major U.S. wireless carriers, we’ve got some research you might find interesting.
A new study conducted by research teams at Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst at a conference this week, shows that U.S. wireless carriers not only regularly throttle video streaming post net neutrality — as many said they might do only to avoid congestion and bottlenecks — most of them are doing it pretty much all of the time everywhere.
The study was culled from some 650,000 tests across the United States.
Researchers enlisted more than 126,000 smartphone users globally, who downloaded an app called Wehe to test internet connections. Information from those tests was aggregated and analyzed to check if data speeds are being slowed, or throttled, for specific mobile services.
According to the data, from early 2018 to early 2019, AT&T was found to have throttled Netflix 70% of the time and Google’s YouTube service 74% of the time. But AT&T apparently didn’t slow down Amazon’s Prime Video at all.
T-Mobile throttled Amazon Prime Video in about 51% of tests, but didn’t throttle Skype and barely touched Vimeo, the report states.
David Choffnes, associate professor at Northeastern University and one of the study’s authors, note that the services are doing it all of the time 24/7.
Verizon Communications, AT&T and T-Mobile have each acknowledged in the past that sacrifices in speed are required to deliver videos people want to watch.
Although carriers more or less clearly communicate to customers that speeds may fluctuate to manage online traffic, the discovered extent of more recent throttling activities raises questions how all Internet traffic and services are handled. Net neutrality had stipulated that carriers should not discriminate by user, app or content. But the Obama Administration’s regulations were quickly scuttled by newly promoted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai after Donald Trump took office.
Last February, three U.S. senators called for the FCC to investigate whether U.S. wireless carriers were throttling popular apps without telling customers.
The study leaders acknowledged that in some cases discrepancies in throttling different video services could be due to errors, as some carriers haven’t been able to detect and limit some video apps after they made technical tweaks.
Choffnes’ studies in throttling practices over the years have been funded by a diverse range of corporations and interests with all sorts of affiliations and agendas. These include: the National Science Foundation, Google parent Alphabet and ARCEP, the French telecom regulator. Amazon even provided some free services for the effort, and Verizon also sought to measure throttling at U.S. carriers.
The researchers said no one can restrict their ability to publish the gathered research and the companies that contribute support don’t influence the work in gathering or reporting the data.
By Greg Tarr
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