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How Netflix's new app option helps customers control video stream

The new Netflix controls will allow streamers to adjust the quality, and therefore the amount of mobile data used, through its application.

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Netflix has introduced a new feature for its mobile service that will allow users to tailor how much data will be used when streaming videos.

Elise Amendola/AP

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Most smartphone users currently contend with a monthly data limit that caps their Internet usage, but Netflix, Inc. has introduced a new feature for its mobile service that will allow users to tailor their preferences to beat the streaming ceiling.

The new tool will allow customers of the Netflix mobile application to adjust preferences related to how much data the program runs through to stream the digital provider's library of movies, television shows, and more.

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"Today, we are offering a new tool to help you better control how much data you use when streaming on cellular networks," Netflix director of product innovation Eddy Wu said in a Thursday release. "Our goal is to give you more control and greater choice in managing your data usage whether you're on an unlimited mobile plan or one that’s more restrictive."

According to Netflix, the new feature allows for adjustments from the standard three hours of streaming per gigabyte of data used, a bitrate average of 600 kilobits per second, to higher or lower quality streaming in line with different mobile network providers' standards. The new settings range from low-quality transfer rates permitting around four hours of video streaming per gigabyte used, to an unlimited level allowing for the highest-quality video at a rate of less than an hour per gigabyte.

Netflix viewers can also opt to keep the automatic streaming settings set by the app.

"We hope this will help you enjoy Netflix for those times that you are out and about, and we'll continue to work to deliver a great streaming experience whether you are on a TV, computer, or a phone, and whether you are at home or on the go," Mr. Wu wrote.

The move comes after issues arose between the media provider and cellphone carriers, uncovered by The Wall Street Journal. The Journal reported conflict between Netflix and Verizon Communications, Inc. and AT&T, Inc. over the former limiting the video loading speed of those companies' mobile users. Netflix said it limits video quality on those networks while allowing higher quality streaming on rival T-Mobile US Inc., and Sprint Corporation's networks, as "historically those two companies have had more consumer-friendly policies."

Verizon and AT&T have stricter data overage policies that could result in fees for customers, prompting Netflix to "protect consumers from exceeding mobile data caps," on those networks.

T-Mobile offers a "Binge On" program for some services – including Netflix – that allows customers to watch video without it counting against their monthly cap, although the wireless operator can cap streaming quality as it sees fit.

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While not mentioning specific network providers, Wu said that "Your mobile carrier also may impact the actual data usage even if you elect a higher setting in the Netflix app."

A Netflix test video used to determine streaming quality showed a lower quality stream when using Verizon or AT&T over Sprint or T-Mobile.

The Netflix addition, rumored for months, comes ahead of the next iteration of the Android mobile OS, code-named Android N, which will include a "Data Saver" feature allowing similar data control options for its users across every app on a smartphone. Some apps, such as Google Chrome, also offer a similar service. iOS has yet to release a data restraint mode.

The updated Netflix app is available on both Android and iOS devices. Wi-Fi streaming is not affected by the new setting.