Confirming Dangers of FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal, New Study Shows Telecoms Throttling YouTube, Netflix, and Other Apps
An ongoing study first reported by Bloomberg reveals the extent to which major American telecom companies are throttling video content on apps such as YouTube and Netflix on mobile phones in the wake of the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealing national net neutrality protections last December.
Researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst used a smartphone app called Wehe, which has been downloaded by about 100,000 users, to track when wireless carriers engage in data “differentiation,” or when companies alter download speeds depending on the type of content, which violates a key tenet of the repealed rules.
Between January and May of this year, Wehe detected differentiation by Verizon 11,100 times; AT&T 8,398 times; T-Mobile 3,900 times; and Sprint 339 times. David Choffnes, one of the study’s authors and the app’s developer, told Bloomberg that YouTube was the top target, but carriers also slowed down speeds for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and the NBC Sports app.
Apple initially blocked Wehe from its App Store, but changed course in January following public outrage. A Motherboard report on the fight to make the app available outlined how Wehe allows users to see how their wireless carriers are treating various video apps compared with speeds for data such as text messages or emails. The report also offered this screenshot of the app to show how it detects those different speeds:
Although wireless carriers still throttled videos under the repealed net neutrality provisions—thanks in part to a loophole that allowed them to offer plans that skirted the rules—the FCC was looking into concerns about the practice before Trump-appointed Ajit Pai took over the agency, and public interest groups have long demanded that federal regulators take action to stop it.
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Instead, Pai stopped that inquiry and the agency commissioners voted along party lines to repeal net neutrality protections, giving internet service providers (ISPs) more power to decide how to treat content. While carriers claim that video throttling is not automatic, and is part of necessary network management, in the absence of national regulations, the new research has provoked heightened alarm.
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