Verizon 'data hog' throttling move irks users

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

Data customers reacted with outrage at a Verizon Wireless warning that it will throttle back network speeds for the top 5 percent of customers who consume the most data.

Many commenters on various Web sites said it was inconsistent for Verizon to offer both a $30 monthly unlimited data plan for smartphones and then reduce speeds for the heaviest users.

“So bandwidth throttling on an UNLIMITED data plan? Very classy Verizon… very classy indeed,” wrote Arvind in comments at Computerworld.com .

Other commenters said it was false advertising for Verizon call its service unlimited. “The fact that they intend to limit an unlimited service should not be allowed by the FCC regulators who review advertising campaigns for accuracy,” noted GMIOF .

Still other commenters defended Verizon’s move, agreeing with the carrier that limiting the heaviest users protects the other 95 percent. “You should be able to use your service and not have it slowed to a crawl by a few abusers,” wrote one anonymous commenter.

Verizon representatives would not comment when asked to respond to their critics. Asked how slow a heavy user’s speed might be under the new approach, Verizon would not say.

Analysts largely defended Verizon’s move, saying the carrier is getting out ahead of expected heavy data usage by new Verizon iPhone 4 users, once sales start on Feb. 10 .

“AT&T might admit that if it had found a way to wrangle up the worst data offenders from its iPhone base, that AT&T might not have had the same level of problems they had,” said Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research.

AT&T has been roundly criticized by its customers for dropped calls for nearly four years since it first began exclusively acting as the U.S. carrier for the iPhone. AT&T has admitted it has faced its worst network problems in downtown San Francisco and Manhattan in New York City.

Unlike AT&T, which had dropped unlimited data plans last year after years of criticism for network problems, Verizon seems to realize what could be coming, Burden said.

“Verizon has to do something,” Burden said. “Those 5 percent can really wreak havoc with the network. They are only upsetting 5 percent of their customers, which is really what it comes down to.”

Verizon also sells a number of Android smartphones , which are also big data-using devices. “Verizon could run into serious network problems with iPhones and Androids,” Burden said. “They need some sort of way to grab hold of those 5 percent.”

Will Stofega, an analyst at IDC, said the prospect of slower speeds might be overblown, depending on how much traffic the iPhone and other smartphones at Verizon create in coming months.

“Even if they limit speeds, the speed you get could still be higher than what other carriers offer,” Stofega noted.

On the other hand, Stofega said usage with the iPhone could be so high that users might wish they were back on AT&T.

“The Apple iPhone user fanbase has screamed for years, ‘We want Verizon,’ but now there’s evidence [with the slowdown warning] that Verizon’s not the answer to everything,” Stofega said. “It underscores the difficulty carriers face with data enhanced smartphones. AT&T found out the hard way. This is Verizon making sure they deliver what they promise.”

He advised potential Verizon iPhone customers to gauge how much data they use and whether they truly need to get it fast before contracting for service. Those who are mostly voice users would have few worries with Verizon, he said.

Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, said Verizon had little choice in the matter. “The big question is, what’s the alternative? AT&T has demonstrated some of the network problems that arise if you don’t throttle high usage customers.”

Howe and other analysts said all the carriers are wrestling with data congestion, and compared their responses so far to the ways that crowded cities around the globe have addressed vehicle traffic on roadways. London has a downtown city toll, while cities in China “just cope with traffic jams,” he noted.

“The fact that no perfect auto-traffic solution has presented itself for cities indicates that mobile carriers may just be experiencing the traffic jams of the 21st Century,” Howe added.

Verizon promulgated its warning to network hogs on its Web site along with a more detailed plan for implementing new network management practices to increase network efficiency “to allow available network capacity to benefit the greatest number of users,” Verizon said.

One new practice involves compression of text, image and video files which “may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on your device,” Verizon warned.

Verizon described several of the network optimization techniques in a longer note on its site .

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