Melita, Go break no sweat over Netflix but users question internet speeds

But customers on Facebook question whether internet speeds are being deliberately throttled at night by internet service providers to dissuade them from problem-free streaming of movies and live football

Netflix’s global expansion has provoked an exultant welcome from Maltese viewers who find cable and digital terrestrial TV offerings limited at best, and have increasingly turned towards ‘illegal’ streaming to watch the latest series and live football matches.

There is still a healthy take-up of Melita and GO’s television packages, which after all are just one part of their quad-play – internet, TV, fixed and mobile telephony – empires.

Total subscribers on pay TV fell slightly from 149,727 in 2011 to 147,880 in 2014. In the first half of 2015, Melita’s share of total pay TV was 4.4% on analogue cable and 48.3% on digital cable, while GO had 36.8% on its digital terrestrial (DTTV) and 10.5% on its internet protocol TV (IPTV) platforms. GO was the winner in market share with 4.3 percentage points on the up.

But key to consumers’ love of the internet was the fact that 55.1% of pay TV subscriptions in the first half of 2015 were purchased in a bundle, together with internet connectivity.

It’s this part of the Melita and GO product range that Netflix users will depend on for their entertainment. Netflix’s online streaming service, launched in 2007, has proved one of the most popular of its kind, allowing unlimited streaming access to various TV shows and movies. This week, CEO Reed Hastings announced the service had become available in an additional 130 countries, including Malta. 

It is no secret that the downloading of torrents through sites such as PirateBay or Kickass, and the use of ‘Android’ boxes – which used the former X-Box Media Centre application now called Kodi – has allowed users with fast internet connections to stream their favourite shows and movies. At a cost of between €8 and €12 a month, Netflix is the first properly legal streaming service on the island. 

And that’s why Melita and GO have claimed that the new service will not affect subscription numbers. Both said Netflix was “complementary” to their own services, primarily because users would still require fast internet connections in order to enjoy the new service.

A question of speed

Over 150,000 in Malta pay for fixed broadband, with close to 90,000 opting for speeds of 30Mbps or more. Year-on-year, the number of connections supporting download speeds of 30Mbps or more was up by almost 19,000 (or by almost 27%), whilst the number of connections supporting download speeds lower than 30Mbps was down by 12,250.

In North America, Netflix accounts for about 35% of all Internet traffic, surpassing other popular services such as YouTube. Essentially, although the service will eclipse the tired show re-reruns on Fox and FoxLife (latest movies on GO Stars and Melita Movies come at a premium), the two providers will still be selling the broadband that will carry the video that Netflix offers.

Netflix says that speed recommendations can be as low as 0.5 megabits per second for connection and 3Mbps for SD quality streaming, and as high as 25Mbps for ultra HD quality, but ‘just’ 5Mbps for HD streaming. Movies and TV shows that are available in high definition will play in 720p or better with a fast enough.

But on Facebook, Melita is being pushed hard on its claims that it offers fast broadband that prospective Netflix users will need to enjoy their streaming experience.

One user, Claude Spiteri, leveled an oft-repeated charge that the company throttles internet speeds at late hours of the day when streaming tends to be more frequent.

“Considering Melita lower their speeds after 7pm every single day, Netflix and all the best companies in the world can come to Malta, but if you have Melita you wouldn’t be able to stream it – ‘cos their internet is hopeless! And yes I tried everything and I verified personally that you lower your speeds in the evening.”

Melita replied back, telling Spiteri that it was not the case that it reduced evening speeds, inviting the user to use independent speed tests such as Ookla, a mobile-based speed checker.

Spiteri came back saying that speed test would easily verify Melita’s 30Mpbs speed. “But when I watch a film that is not through Maltese servers or a match, the speed with foreign VPS magically goes down from 30 to 2Mbps. Yeah sorry I’m not that stupid.”

Melita defended itself saying it was investing in its network, with average speeds for customers having gone up from 5Mbps to over 30Mbps in the last years.

Another user, Paul Portelli, claimed that since two months ago, his speeds had reduced drastically between 6pm and 11:30pm. “The technician came to my house twice and I always get the same response. There are no problems and when the speed is tested on, it says its 30Mbps. The slowness in my connection is very evident after this time. I’ve made multiple calls to customer support and sent multiple emails as well, but the problem was never fixed. Unfortunately, after years of service with very few problems, I’m going to have to switch to the only other available option.” 

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