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Netflix Claims Single-Stream Limit Was Mistake

Did Netflix really mean to limit you to a single video stream at any given time? According to the company, the answer is no.

An "error" by Netflix is limiting the number of video streams some of its members can send to their computers, tablets and smartphones, the company admitted today in a statement.

A number of the entertainment service's members discovered over the Labor Day weekend that they could stream content from Netflix to only one device at a time. So if Dad was watching an action movie on his computer, Mom wouldn't be able to watch a romantic flick streamed to the Roku box in the living room.

Although Netflix explains that limitation in an FAQ at its website, some users didn't run into the barrier until last weekend.

"Some membership plans allow you to watch simultaneously on more than one personal computer or Netflix-ready device," a Netflix FAQ explained. "If you are on the Unlimited Streaming plan, the Unlimited Streaming + 1 DVD out-at-a-time plan or a limited streaming plan, you may watch only one device at a time."

"If you are on the Unlimited Streaming + 2 DVDs out-at-a-time plan, you may watch on up to two devices at a time," it continued. "Members on the Unlimited Streaming + 3 DVDs out-at-a-time plan may watch on up to three devices at a time. The maximum is four devices at a time—available for members on the Unlimited Streaming + 4-or greater DVDs out-at-a-time plan."

According to Stop the Cap!, a blog "dedicated to promoting better broadband, fighting data caps, usage-based billing and other Internet overcharging schemes," many of its readers told the publication that they have never had problems running two or even three concurrent streams at the same time on a “stream-only” plan until recently.

"Stop the Cap! was able to verify this ourselves this weekend," wrote founder and editor-and-chief of the blog Philip Dampier. "Sure enough, while in the recent past we were able to support up to three video streams running at the same time, now it is just one."

"While Netflix may have been hoping to cut down on the number of 'shared accounts' with friends and distant family members, their policy change will hit families hard," he added. "With the controversial Sept. 1 price increase effectively near-doubling the cost to watch video streams and rent one DVD at a time by mail, now may not be the best time to further antagonize loyal customers."

Rather than a tightening of policy, though, the streaming limitations experienced by some of Netflix's customers over the weekend were the result of a mistake, according to the company. "No Netflix member is limited to less than two concurrent streams," Netflix Vice President of Corporate Communications Steve Swasey said in a comment posted at the Stop the Cap! site "A few Netflix members have heard differently from us, which is an error that we’re fixing."

Since Netflix's decision to jack up its rates for a combined DVD rental/streaming video account to $16 a month, which took effect September 1, the company hasn't had the best public relations with its customers and this latest gaffe isn't going to improve the situation.

While it's nice that Netflix has ignored its policy tying the number of streams to how much a member is spending with the company, it's certainly reassuring to know that at any time the company may decide to enforce the policy as stated in the FAQ. But if you want to give everyone at least two streams, then why not say that in your policy?

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.


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