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Netflix slims down bandwidth for capped Canadian users

updated 12:00 am EDT, Tue March 29, 2011

Netflix trims to help those hurt by Bell, Rogers

Netflix in its first signs of addressing a rapidly constricting audience told Canadian users it was slimming down the bandwidth demands of its video service. By default, streaming in the country will now use a lower 300MB per hour bitrate that consumes two thirds less data but with "minimal impact" on the perceived image quality. The choice would let a viewer watch about 30 hours of Netflix on 9GB of data and still leave room, even under a restrictive cap from Bell, Rogers, or another similar provider.

Watching the same amount of standard definition video could normally take up as much as 30GB of video at 1GB per hour, and 70GB at 2.3GB per hour if it was in 1080p, Netflix said. Those on a provider like TekSavvy that don't currently face limits, or anyone who has a large enough cap, can ramp the settings back up if they want the best quality.

It's not known if or when Americans will get the same treatment, although the upcoming AT&T DSL and U-verse caps has prompted some to ask for Netflix to allow lower bitrates in the US.

The gesture has come after a dispute over usage-based billing at the CRTC. The agency had proposed a system that would have required down-the-line Canadian Internet providers, like TekSavvy, to meter their own service like the host carrier, even if they could afford to offer higher caps or unlimited data. Independent providers and Netflix had argued that it would have a chilling effect that would discourage any serious use of online video in Canada and conveniently protect traditional TV services from having to face real competition.

The CRTC copied Bell's position and argued that it was an issue of "fairness" in making sure that heavy users paid more for data while less frequent users paid a smaller amount. However, a public outcry along with the Conservative government's alarm at competition led to the ruling's effect being postponed at least 60 days. Industry Minister Tony Clement warned that the CRTC returning with the same verdict on usage-based billing would lead to the government automatically overturning the decision.

Unlike in the US, bandwidth caps have typically been much lower in Canada than in the US and rarely go up proportionately with speed. A typical 60GB cap would prevent significant 1080p viewing, and possibilities of 25GB caps under the CRTC ruling would have virtually cut out Netflix, iTunes and equivalents for those who still used their data significantly in other ways.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Pixelsmack

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Okay so here we go...

    Where is this going to all lead? It's not that the bandwidth requirements are truly taxing and cutting in to profits of the providers. It's that the providers see a market to make more profits.

    Now we've enter this t**-for-tat phase. Content versus the providers. This can only end badly for all.

  1. trevj

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Want my business?

    Netflix can slim down the bandwidth of their offerings as much as they want, but until they start offering a significant library of good shows and movies here in Canada, they'll be doing so without my business.

  1. lkrupp

    Joined: Dec 1969



    "It's not that the bandwidth requirements are truly taxing and cutting in to profits of the providers."

    Patently wrong. Networks are not designed to support peak usage 24/7. Look up "queue theory" to see what I mean. A typical DSLAM (the hardware that connects to the customer's DSL modem) is fed by an OC3 (150mbps pipe). A DSLAM might serve 192 customers or more. If all of those users were saturating their 1-6 mbps connections at the same time there would be dramatic slowdowns. The whole system is based on serving the average usage during a specified time. It's called concentration. The pipe providers are constantly struggling to keep up with demand by adding pipe capacity, router capacity, backbone capacity, etc. Streaming video services like Netflix, iTunes and the like have thrown a huge monkey wrench into the works. The providers have decided to cap high usage thereby reducing their expenditures on network buildout. The bean counters (and shareholders by proxy) are behind this, pure and simple. It's cheaper to cap than to keep spending bigger and bigger capital dollars on buildout.

    Not saying I agree with it but always follow the money to find out why something is happening.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: OK

    It's that the providers see a market to make more profits.

    OK, and your point being, what? It's bad to make money? Unlimited internet access should be free?

    People really need to look at to how the internet actually interconnects. You get the feeling that there are people who think it's just this magical network of wires that the likes of Verizon can just connect to for free, send all the traffic they want over it, and all they pay for is running the cable on the street and to your house.

  1. Feathers

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Unusual Paradigm

    The internet is an unusual paradigm in that the pipe-providers aren't actually in the water business. That is, they literally provide the piping but derive nothing from the content passing through the pipe.

    That said, to say that their interest is solely to do with overall network capacity and the cost of provision is naïve. They have a pipe that for a long time carried only water, now they see, irrespective of the volume issue, that the pipe is now carrying wine and they want to charge more, they want their cut of the tasty content. They may be legitimately entitled to increase charges on the basis of volume usage but not on the basis of taste!

    Out of cheese error...metaphor overload...skfdgMVBjvM...

  1. shawnde

    Joined: Dec 1969


    The CRTC ...

    The CRTC copied Bell's position and argued that it was an issue of "fairness"

    No wonder they copied Bell's position; the CRTC is OWNED by Bell. They're NOT a government entity. The make it sound like they are, but not the case. Every board member at CRTC is shareholder in the telcos (or has a equity position in of the telcos). I don't even know why they're there. It should be dissolved and banned by the Canadian Government.

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