Verizon will start throttling smartphone video to 480p or 720p

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Jonathan Weiss/123RF

Verizon’s unlimited data plans are about to get a lot more … limited. America’s largest carrier announced that starting Wednesday, August 23, it will begin throttling all videos streamed on its network.

The caps will disproportionately affect smartphone users. Most phones on Verizon’s unlimited plans will see video throttled to 720p resolution (as low as 480p), and tablets and devices tethered to mobile hot spots won’t be able to stream higher than 1080p. They will also have to contend with a hard 10Mbps limit on all traffic that Verizon identifies as video.

“We’re doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network since there is no significant difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions,” a Verizon spokesperson told Digital Trends. “You have more choice on our unmatched network.”

Unlike some of its competitors, Verizon won’t offer subscribers options to completely un-throttle video. Instead, it’s extending discounts.

Starting August 23, Verizon’s single-line unlimited smartphone plan will cost $75 a month, or $5 less than it cost before. It will cap videos to “DVD-quality” 480p on phones and throttle all other data to 600kbps.

Verizon’s pricier unlimited plan, Beyond Unlimited, will offer a bit more freedom. Single-line plans will start at $85 a month and include 720p video streaming on smartphones, 15GB of 4G LTE hot-spot speeds per month (reduced to 600kbps speeds after that), and uncapped non-video data.

Customers on both plans will have the option of forking over $20 per month for tablet data. But tablets, too, will be capped at 720p on Verizon’s $75-a-month plan and 1080p on Beyond Unlimited. And Verizon is keeping in place a 22GB “management” limit on unlimited plans. Subscribers who use more than 22GB a month may see speeds reduced in network-congested areas.

Verizon says that all existing customers, including those on a limited plan, will see video resolution reduced to 720p on phones and 1080p on tablets this week. Subscribers on Verizon’s soon-to-be-retired $80-per-month unlimited plan will face the same video quality and tethering limits as Beyond Unlimited customers, but the new 480p limit will apply only to prepaid customers and customers on the $75 unlimited plan.

“More than 96 percent of customers have not used [resolutions higher than 1080p],” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars Technica. “We’re really managing our network in a way to be able to expand unlimited data to more people.”

But network neutrality advocates argue that the caps violate the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules. In response to a temporary test earlier this month of Verizon’s video throttling, advocacy group Free Press said that the carrier was “cherry [picking] which [apps] work” and which don’t. “If Verizon’s network can handle traffic, it can handle traffic, whether it’s video or not.”

Verizon denied violating any rules. We’ve reached out for comment, and will update this article with any statement from the carrier.

Update: Added a statement from a Verizon spokesperson.