Almost all wireless carriers admit that they slow down the speed of internet for video streaming, claiming it to be a necessary practice in order to control network congestion. This process is called throttling. According to David Choffnes, an associate professor of computer and information science at the Northeastern University, carriers throttle videos all the time, even when networks are not overloaded. According to his study, a reason for this maybe that one doesn’t have enough capacity for everyone to stream high-definition video at the same time. Such overloads are rare and fleeting, thus, it is expected that a reasonable network management policy would throttle video only during such rare busy periods. But there is no evidence of ISPs throttling only when the network is busy. In fact, it’s there 24/7 and everywhere.
During 2018-2019, Choffnes and his colleagues conducted around 1 million tests with an app called Wehe. The data was aggregated and analysed from more than 1,26,000 smartphones to find whether data speeds are being slowed, or throttled. They found that just about every wireless carrier is guilty of throttling video platforms and streaming services unevenly.
It is called differentiation, when carriers throttle one type of network traffic, but not another, which constitutes a violation of net neutrality. Choffnes says, “Differentiation opens the door to network providers picking winners and losers. For example, which video streaming service gets to stream at higher resolution or not. Such behavior is problematic because it threatens competition and fairness in the marketplace, potentially favoring some video streaming providers over their competitors.”
Choffnes is worried that throttling will take away the ability of consumers to make decisions about how they want to access the internet and create an unlevel playing field in the video streaming market. Choffnes, along with his team, will continue collecting and measuring this data to keep average users informed, carriers accountable, and to help lawmakers make informed decisions when net neutrality rules and legislation come up for debate again.
“The more transparency, the better.” he concludes.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman