For years now, carriers have been offering “unlimited” data and, quietly, capping those pipes. I guess the term “unlimited data” has a different meaning for different entities. To me, it means exactly what it says, but to the carriers it seems to mean they can offer “some” unlimited data, arbitrarily.
It is not like the carriers have not been called on the carpet for this more than once. Yet they continue to perpetuate it and neither the FTC nor FCC seem to find it in violation of truth in advertising laws.
Thank goodness for Wehe — an internet speed watchdog – well, for the consumer at least. Wehe analyzed data collected by researchers from Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Stony Brook University. Lo and behold, the analytics proved that wireless carriers are still throttling video content. Moreover, it made no difference as to the time of day, or type of content. Apparently, there is a data brick wall in the unlimited data game, sooner or later.
The analytics were impressive – over 620,000 crowd-sourced measurements were taken between May 2018 and January 2019. To me, that presents unarguable evidence that these tactics are alive and well, regardless of what the carriers tell users or regulators.
And all the carriers do it to some degree. Interestingly, some apps are throttled from the start, not just after a data limit is hit. For example, T-Mo does not throttle YouTube, but it does limit bandwidth. And, it is not limited to peak periods, which can be, begrudgingly, understood. Carriers have previously acknowledged that, but this particular time the data shows that throttling rates were observed around the clock, and not just during peak times of use. It is simply a practice implemented all the time.
Thanks to the present administration’s narrow thinking about Net Neutrality and the rollback of the rules, carriers have been quick to interpret that as business as usual without fear of reprisals. Once carriers were freed from the shackles of the Title II regulations put in place by the previous administration, they took that ball and ran with it, free of restraints, even though they are required to let the customer know (I am sure that a disclosure is buried deeply, in the fine print, somewhere in the service agreement).
True to the tradition of this administration, last year there was some congressional inquiries into the practice of throttling, but nothing ever came of it. It was just the typical plastic saber-rattling Congress is so well known for.
Interestingly, but predictably, pro-carrier organizations came out in defense of the carriers and called the Wehe data flawed. CTIA in October 2018 posted a blog in response to concerns over network management and how Wehe app detects variations. Particularly, CTIA’s CTO Tom Sawanobori wrote a missive that noted, “The Wehe app compares the data speeds that consumers experience with, and without, that content provider’s metadata. If the Wehe app detects a difference in speed, it registers this as ‘differentiation’ and implies this is a violation of ‘net neutrality. What the Wehe app is really detecting is either basic wireless network management (based on consumer choice) or data management practices used by content providers. That’s because content providers have data practices in place—outside the control of providers – that reduce video resolution of data traffic flowing through their sites or apps depending on the consumer’s mobile device.”
Wow, is that a jumble of words in true political doublespeak or what? Blaming it on the mobile device and content providers is a stretch. Even if the Wehe data does not take all of the metrics into consideration. It is not like this is the first time this has happened. The carriers have a history of this and that speaks louder than any carrier-friendly organization’s attempt to justify their actions. Besides, if monitored data slows down, it is being throttled, for whatever reason, justifiably or not, it is hard to swallow that it comes from anyone but the pipe providers.
Now, going forward, it has been mentioned that 5G is going to alleviate this. However, there are myriad of speed bumps (pun intended) around this. First of all, below that industry-defined 6 GHz mmWave demarcation boundary, not much is going to change in frequency availability or manipulation. Sure, there will be some improvements – better toward the upper limit. But unlimited bandwidth? Not hardly. Therefore, the issue of bandwidth constraints will remain.
Above 6 GHz is another story. There shouldbe plenty of bandwidth once the mmWave bands come online. However, there are a number of issues around mmWave that have yet to be resolved. So while there is bandwidth relief on the horizon, it is not a cure-all – at least not for the immediate future. So do not expect to see throttling disappear any time soon. In fact, expect it to become more prevalent and widespread.
Believe it or not, I get the throttling issue – and I believe there is merit to it. With the real-time content movement, current bandwidths are being taxed. My issue is with the perpetual lying by the carriers in the battle to gain customers. I do not care if they throttle. I care that they are not being upfront about it.