AUSTIN (KXAN) — A yearlong study of cell phone carriers found that almost every major U.S. cellular carrier throttles your data, and they do it much more often than ever previously reported. The U.S. companies also do it more often than companies in other parts of the world.
The study found carriers mainly throttle video streaming services and they play favorites. For example, AT&T throttled Netflix and YouTube 70% and 74% of the time respectively but never throttled Amazon Prime.*
That’s great if you’re trying to watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Not so much if you’re trying to stream “Stranger Things” or watch the latest music video.
And it didn’t matter if you had an iPhone or an Android. The most common iPhone tested was the iPhone X. The most common Android was Google Pixel 2 XL. All had their data throttled.
YouTube was the most throttled app across all phones and operating systems. Meanwhile, Spotify was never throttled, although it streams music and not video. Vimeo was the video streaming app throttled the least.
The biggest impact for users is an immediate decrease in video resolution. For example, if you’re watching a video on a strong connection and all of a sudden the video pixelates, that could be your carrier throttling your data.
The study found that this throttling took place even before June 2018, which is when the U.S. rolled back restrictions on net neutrality and throttling. It’s interesting to note that the study did not find any throttling in France. It blamed the throttling in the United States on the current “regulatory regime.”
Many cell phone carriers have argued they need to be able to throttle individual phones to prevent overloading their networks. The study did not find that was true.
It wrote, “we expect to see higher incidence of throttling during a cellular network’s busy hours (e.g., 8am to midnight) compared to overnight (e.g., midnight to 8am).” But their study actually found the opposite. It found that throttling happened at all times of day and actually happened slightly more often overnight.
In a statement, AT&T responded to the study, writing:
“We don’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content. We offer customers choice, including speeds and features to manage their data. This app fails to account for a user’s choice of settings or plan that may affect speeds. We’ve previously been in contact with the app developers to discuss how they can improve their app’s performance.”
*Note: The study says Amazon might skirt throttling because it uses multiple TCP connections.