FCC cannot investigate Netflix for throttling its own customers

Netflix last week revealed that it has throttled the video streams of customers who have been accessing its service from AT&T's and Verizon's networks, after the two carriers were believed to be at fault.

The company says that this has been done to keep those users from exceeding their monthly data plans, but some believe the video streaming service has taken things too far, right into the net neutrality danger zone.

Despite offering what looks to be a good reason for the throttling, Netflix is still in the wrong. Customers were not informed of the company's decision before it went into effect more than five years ago. There is no way of turning the "feature" off, at least not until a data saver option is introduced in May. And the focus of the throttling has been rather limited, with this move not extending to other carriers in US, like Sprint and T-Mobile. So, obviously, affected customers have very good reasons to complain.

The customers who Netflix targeted have been limited to 600 Kbps video streams, which is well below the capabilities of modern, 4G LTE cellular networks. The obvious advantage to doing this is a decrease in traffic, which could mean lower costs for Netflix. Although AT&T and Verizon also stand to benefit for the same reason, the former carrier, at least, says that it is "outraged" by Netflix's actions.

Naturally, some Netflix users feel the same, going as far as to suggest that Netflix may have broken the net neutrality rules by throttling their connections. As you may know, the Federal Communications Commission, lead by Tom Wheeler, is responsible for enforcing net neutrality rules, so if there's an agency that can do something about FCC should be it.

However, according to Wheeler, what Netflix is doing is actually outside of FCC's jurisdiction. The agency cannot investigate what so called "edge providers" or websites are doing, as those entities are "outside the open Internet" order, according to statements given to Reuters earlier this week.

That may be disappointing to hear but, as you may know, the net neutrality rules are designed with the idea of protecting customers from having their Internet connections throttled by ISPs. Since Netflix is not the company offering Internet service, it can apparently throttle its own customers at will with no repercussions from the FCC.

So what can you do about it? Well, it looks like, if Netflix throttles you, you will have to wait until it enables the data saver mode that it promised last week, so that you can unleash the full potential of your cellular connection while streaming video.

Image source: Shutterstock/Gil C