Cheapest plan limits video to 480p, and there’s no way to watch 1080p on a phone anymore.

Verizon isn’t alone. All major carriers are implementing data restrictions.

Chris Welch
Aug 22, 2017

Well, now we know why Verizon Wireless was “testing” reduced Netflix streaming speeds last month. Today the biggest US carrier announced that its existing unlimited data plan is being divided into three new options: Go Unlimited (starting at $75 for a single line), Beyond Unlimited ($85 for first line), and Business Unlimited. Unlike the relatively straightforward unlimited plan that Verizon surprised customers with in February, these new monthly plans are chock-full of fine print and caveats. And in a move sure to anger net neutrality advocates, the regular “Go Unlimited” plan throttles all smartphone video streaming to 480p / DVD-quality. The new plans go into effect beginning tomorrow, August 23rd, so this change is happening fast. Existing postpaid customers can keep their current plan, but some things will change even for them.

“These plans give you the best unlimited choices, but you also get what only Verizon can give you: the best network, the best rewards program, the best way to manage your plan with the My Verizon app and the best selection of phones and devices,” the company wrote in its press release. But that “the best network” claim seems to be at odds with all the strict network management that Verizon is introducing with these plans. All customers are about to face significant new limits and restrictions around video streaming. Let’s run over those changes:


I’m not going to cover the Business Unlimited plan much since most of you reading this are regular consumers, but it also limits users to DVD-quality video and caps high-speed hotspot usage at 10GB (or 15GB on a two-year contract). Also, business customers get a higher 25GB data threshold before deprioritization if they’re on a contract, as well.

How does this compare to the previous unlimited data plan?

Before this latest change, the unlimited data plan placed no limits on mobile video whatsoever.

If you don’t mind the possibility of slowed down data speeds or DVD-quality video, you can opt for the Go Unlimited plan and save a few bucks compared to the plan introduced in February, which started at $80 for a single line. But new customers who do care about those things will be paying more money each month for essentially the same service. Beyond Unlimited starts at $85 for the first line and remains more expensive as you add additional lines. A Verizon spokesperson told me that the old price was an “introductory” price that was inevitably going to change.

What if I’m already on the unlimited plan from earlier this year?

Verizon insists that existing customers will be able keep their current plan. So you can keep paying what you are now without having to pick between the new plans. And as a bonus, for everyone on the previous unlimited data plan from February, Verizon is increasing the allowance for full-speed LTE hotspot usage from 10GB to 15GB for existing customers at no charge.

If you’re on one of the bucketed plans or the really old unlimited plan still, you can stay on those, too. But there’s one more big catch even if you change nothing, and it affects everyone...

All customers are getting moved over to throttled video

This is what’s likely going to enrage Verizon customers most. No matter what plan you’re on — whether it’s the old, grandfathered unlimited data plan or a tiered plan or the new unlimited plan — Verizon is taking a tighter grip over video streaming. “Moving forward, HD video on all legacy plans will also match Beyond Unlimited’s HD quality.”

So you’ll soon be limited to a maximum video quality of 720p streaming on phones and 1080p if you’ve got a tablet on your plan. There’s no going higher for anyone. Even with a laptop connected to your mobile hotspot, you’ll never be able to reach video speeds higher than 10Mbps. “We're doing this to ensure all customers have a great experience on our network since there is no visible difference in quality on a smartphone or tablet when video is shown at higher resolutions (than 720p on phones and 1080p on tablets).” Verizon doesn’t point to any specific data that backs up its “nobody can see a difference” observation between 720p and 1080p on a 5.5-inch screen.

Verizon isn’t alone. All major carriers are implementing data restrictions.

This move on Verizon’s part was perhaps inevitable since nearly all of its chief rivals have already put in place some arbitrary restrictions on video quality or overall data speeds.

There, the cheapest unlimited plan similar limits you to 480p. And at all times, the fastest data speeds you can get are 3Mbps, which is... slow.

The baseline T-Mobile One unlimited data plan also throttles video to 480p; you’ve got to pay an extra $10 per month for the “Plus” plan to get HD video. But unlike Verizon and AT&T, the company doesn’t restrict everyday data speeds for apps and web browsing; you’ll just face the risk of slower speeds after crossing 32GB in a month if the network is congested. That’s generous compared to T-Mobile’s competitors.

Sprint offers full HD streaming as part of its unlimited plan. Woohoo! But the company enforces stricter network management in other areas. Music streaming is limited to 1.5Mbps, for example, and you can’t exceed 8Mbps when playing games on your phone. Boo. And now with Verizon having joined the throttled video ranks, it might only be a matter of time before Sprint follows the crowd.

Why is this happening? How is it allowed?

Verizon isn’t offering a very satisfactory explanation for the radical shift in approach, but the company believes it’s well within its rights to implement this throttling. Like other carriers, Verizon considers this to be network management and insists it’s not violating net neutrality (while such a thing still exists).

Earlier this month, OpenSignal found that average LTE speeds for Verizon and AT&T slowed down after the companies brought back unlimited data plans; T-Mobile CEO John Legere jumped all over that performance dip. It’s reasonable to see this as Verizon pumping the brakes a bit to get a better handle on network activity.

Who can handle #unlimited? Not the other guys. More reasons @TMobile has the best unlimited network! #ReadEmAndSweep
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) August 2, 2017

But T-Mobile is doing some of this stuff too. The carriers are ultimately coming up with these rules and gotchas because no one’s stopping them. It’s certainly not going to be this toothless FCC. Until now, Verizon had one of the better, easy-to-understand unlimited plans on the market. But by splitting things up and introducing these fast-coming changes to the video streaming experience, well, some customers aren’t going to find that to be true anymore.

Count me among them.