Netflix capitulates to Canadian ISP data caps; US may be next

'Good' level of video designed to use little bandwidth, avoid caps

In case you feel the need to brag about such things, Canada began the process of bowing to our new ISP masters (just barely) before we in the U.S. will have to.

In Canada, Netflix has added poorer-quality, lower-bandwidth video settings to give a break to customers of Canadian ISPs that are enforcing monthly caps on data usage.

Full-length movies typically stream in at about 30GB, 70GB if they're high-def, according to a post from Neil Hunt, Netflix' chief product officer.

The new setting will use only about 9GB.

It has also changed its "adaptive streaming" routing software so that it will automatically switch to the lowest-available setting in the case of congestion or frequent buffering interruptions.

The lowest level, "Good" will use about 625Kbit/sec downstream, which equals about 9GB of data for 30 hours of viewing, Hunt wrote.

" Frequent starts and stops, or rewind/seek activity, will slightly increase the amount of data Netflix streams to you per hour. In most cases this will amount to less than a few minutes' worth." – Neil Hunt, Netflix chief product officer.

No one wants to watch low-res movies with a lot of herky jerky, but having Netflix throttle itself is a lot easier than waiting for the ISPs to do it, right? More responsible of Netflix and all that?

Nope.

It's a concession to ISPs that want to charge all the traffic will bear without expanding their networks fast enough to keep up with their customers' use of all the neat Internet technology the carriers themselves promote – for additional fees and premium services.

Business customers suffer as well, by having their access to bandwidth restricted or charged more for what they need – offsetting all that cost-savings for cloud-based applications or weakening the high-touch, high-res, high-bandwidth apps marketing wants to put up on the site.

Plus, even if you agree that ISPs should be able to sharply limit data use, remember how badly they do it.

AT&T – which, literally invented the telecom business in the U.S. and has been trying to keep it exactly the same ever since – put caps on some customers last month and were as much as 4,700 percent off in their estimates of those customers' data use.

How well would your IT budget handle it if next month's telecom bill was 470 times as high as this month's?

The Canadian carriers Netflix is accommodating aren't much better.

Fortunately, in this country, we know the legal system is balanced and fair, designed specifically to protect consumers and smaller businesses from those who would use insider status, money and power to force their decisions on others undemocratically.

News that a federal judge delivered a ruling that "gave copyright holders carte blanche" to continue copyright-violation settlement schemes consumer-rights groups and ISPs describe as "extortion" unsettles that idea a bit.

Learning that she helped write many of the laws raising penalties on file sharers and used to be a lobbyist for the RIAA, which represents the copyright holders, and yet was allowed to hear the case shakes it even more. Maybe not quite as much as it shook the lawyers defending file sharers when they found out U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell actually helped write the laws that extended federal wiretapping powers to cover the Internet and others that increased penalties for copying or misusing digital music or movies.

This is a fair and just country, isn't it?

Neither Judge Howell nor the FCC nor any of our elected representatives would abet the fleecing of their constituents by giving carte blanche to the Internet companies trying to exploit them?

They wouldn't, would they?

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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