Feature Article

July 28, 2014

Verizon Wireless Expands What Some Would Call Throttling to Select 4G LTE Users

Come October, Verizon Wireless will slow the speeds of a broader range of subscribers that it categorizes as top users.

To date, Verizon Wireless says it has limited the speeds only of those 3G subscribers on unlimited plans who are among the top 5 percent of its users. Beginning in October, however, the company plans to extend that to also include folks in the top 5 percent of data users on its network who have fulfilled their minimum contractual commitment and are on unlimited plans using a 4G LTE device. This does not apply to those business and governmental users with major accounts with Verizon Wireless, the company notes.

As of March 2014, the top 5 percent of data users, according to Verizon Wireless, were using 4.7 GB or more of data each month. Such users, the carrier explains, may experience slower data speeds when streaming high-definition video or participating in real-time, online gaming, at times the network is seeing peak usage.

This practice is widely referred to in the industry as bandwidth throttling, but Verizon Wireless says what it’s doing is something different because with throttling speed is decreased for the life of the session; whereas with network optimization, the carrier leverages intelligence so speed is decreased only when the cell site to which the subscriber is connected is experiencing high demand.

Whatever the details, customers – particularly those who have signed on and are paying for so-called unlimited data plans – understandably get cranky when carriers push back on bandwidth. When Verizon Wireless initially unveiled this strategy a few years ago, many commentators and customers reacted with outrage.

The throttling conversation is also a controversial one given its potential relationship with net neutrality concerns. Some sources have argued that when carriers are allowed to select what applications and subscribers get what bandwidth and quality of service, those carriers may opt to give their own applications and services (as opposed to those offered by over-the-top businesses like Netflix) preferential treatment.

However, Verizon and some other broadband network operators say they’re not doing that, and they justify these practices by arguing that the growth in the number and capabilities of new wireless devices and subscribers sometimes push carrier networks to their limits, so network optimization (or throttling) is a way for network operators to manage their networks so subscribers get the best possible experience. 

Edited by Adam Brandt

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