U.S. MNO Verizon Wireless has announced that starting on 3 November it is removing restrictions on video speeds for subscribers to its unlimited-data plans. In late August, the operator imposed limits on video streaming, with the lower-priced GoUnlimited offering 480p and the higher-priced BeyondUnlimited offering 780p. The 1080p speed was no longer available on any smartphones, even those with the capability of accommodating it; only on tablets would subscribers be able to access 1080p video. Now Verizon is allowing video streaming up to the maximum possible for any given device, as a plan add-on, at the cost of US 10.00 per month.
While the cost of this add-on will not break the bank for high-end users already paying for “unlimited” data and running sophisticated devices, it may annoy some, in that the operator is now charging customers for a service that was free and taken for granted only several months ago. Presumably Verizon heard complaints from users about lower video quality due to speed limits, but rather than simply restoring them it decided to impose a charge. The charge could have the positive effects for the operator such as bringing in revenue, discouraging network congestion, or both, but it could also create some bad publicity for it.
Criticism of U.S. operators for plans that are advertised as “unlimited” but actually contain limits has been ongoing for a while now, and U.S. regulators have warned them not to throttle ordinary data speeds. Limiting video quality (“DVD-quality” versus various degrees of “HD”) is in a different category, but the practice nonetheless strikes many consumers as undesirable. With continuous increases in smartphone quality, more and more users are watching video on these devices, and demand for a high-quality moving image is increasing accordingly. Therefore, charging for a feature that used to be free is an issue that will affect a significant number of customers and so could have a negative effect on perceptions of Verizon.
On the other hand, Verizon is not alone in charging extra for high-definition video streaming. AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint all do so, and the pricing is comparable to Verizon’s. Perhaps, then, unlimited access to video speed at no extra charge is a thing of the past, and U.S. customers will simply have to get used to paying extra for the highest quality.