Net Neutrality alert: Verizon to throttle data speeds for heaviest users

The Net Neutrality whistles are blowing and flags are flying this morning over buzz that Verizon Wireless will be throttling data speeds for its heaviest data users. The change, effective immediately, is believed to be part of Verizon's efforts to ensure that its network is ready for the flood of iPhone users who will start powering up those devices next week.

The Net Neutrality whistles are blowing and flags are flying this morning over buzz that Verizon Wireless will be throttling data speeds for its heaviest data users. The change, effective immediately, is believed to be part of Verizon's efforts to ensure that its network is ready for the flood of iPhone users who will start powering up those devices next week.

In a nutshell, if you're a heavy user - and you really have no way of knowing if that's you or not - then Verizon Wireless "may reduce your data throughput speeds periodically for the remainder of your then current and immediately following billing cycle to ensure high quality network performance for other users at locations and times of peak demand."

Maybe I'm wrong here, but doesn't that just reek of network discrimination? After all, I pay monthly for an unlimited amount of data services - and I use it. Web surf, download apps, stream music, the whole bit. Should I be punished for using something I pay for because other customers don't do the same?

That's like watching ESPN 24 hours a day and then having the programming cut in half for the last week of the month because other customers don't watch it as much as I do. How is that right?

I realize that there is a finite amount of available broadband in a mobile world and that the carriers are dealing with a balancing act to make sure that every customer has a good experience. But can a Internet service provider - and Verizon is exactly that - really discriminate against certain customers because they're using something that they legitimately pay for?

Apparently, it can.

The whole concept of Network Neutrality is a mess in this country, partly because a court ruling took away the FCC's teeth in setting some ground rules and partly because the jury is still out on how to regulate mobile broadband against home broadband.

Granted, the rules that are being imposed have more to do with restrict what ISPs can do to as it relates to sites that utilize heavy amounts of broadband - not necessarily the customers themselves.

Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeffrey Nelson told Dow Jones today that the new policy is not related to next week's release of an iPhone on its network or the launch of pre-orders today, even though there have been widespread questions about how Verizon's network will hold up with a flood of iPhones hitting it.

In fairness to Verizon, the company isn't just implementing a policy that will affect heavy users. It's also taking steps to make the network more efficient so that hiccups don't become the norm. From a PDF statement on its Web site:

We are implementing optimization and transcoding technologies in our network to transmit data files in a more efficient manner to allow available network capacity to benefit the greatest number of users.  These techniques include caching less data, using less capacity, and sizing the video more appropriately for the device.  The optimization process is agnostic to the content itself and to the website that provides it.  While we invest much effort to avoid changing text, image, and video files in the compression process and while any change to the file is likely to be indiscernible, the optimization process may minimally impact the appearance of the file as displayed on your device. For a further, more detailed explanation of these techniques, please visit www.verizonwireless.com/vzwoptimization.

The new changes take effect today.