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Netflix finally does right by mobile streamers

Company adds wireless video quality controls five years after doing so for home broadband.

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Netflix Mobile Streamers

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Netflix is finally doing the right thing for subscribers by introducing controls that allow mobile phone users to decide the quality of their video streams.

The update to the service’s iOS and Android apps lets users pick from six quality settings, from off entirely – where streaming can only happen over wi-fi – to unlimited.

The default setting streams at 600 kilobits per second and delivers about three hours of viewing per gigabyte of data, Netflix’s director of product innovation Eddy Wu writes in a post. The company isn’t disclosing the resolution of the highest setting, but it can use up to 1 GB in 20 minutes.

Netflix says the new controls will help subscribers stay under their wireless data caps while simultaneously controlling the quality of their video.

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It’s an overdue move given that the company introduced similar controls for non-cellular usage back in 2011 in response to Canada’s restrictive home broadband caps, a feature it later rolled out broadly.

Netflix in March copped to the fact that it had been capping Verizon and AT&T wireless subscribers in the U.S. at 600 Kbps for at least the past five years, to proactively save them from those carriers’ low data limits.

Critics jumped on the company, which has been a vocal supporter of net neutrality, for making that choice for subscribers and for making the carriers look bad in the process. Netflix’s motives for keeping such a fact quiet for so long remain questionable.

Realistically, Netflix should have introduced streaming quality controls for cellular a long time ago, especially considering that wireless caps are typically much lower than on home broadband connections. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request about what took the company so long.

If you’re a mobile Netflix streamer you can now breathe easier, knowing that you – and not your carrier or Netflix – get to decide how much data you use.

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