Everybody panic. Get your pitchforks and your hastily written protest posters ready. After a price hike to their streaming service and Starz walking away from the renegotiation table, Netflix is once again doing something that its customers find completely unacceptable: enforcing long-standing policies about the number of streams each customer is allowed.

Never in all my days have I heard of something so sinister. I’m shocked and appalled that a company would dare enforce its rules.

Netflix To Enforce One-Stream-Per-Customer

For the record, Netflix has long had a rule in their service agreement limiting customers to one stream at a time per account. That means you aren’t allowed to stream two separate films or TV shows to two separate devices at the same time. Thing is… they just never bothered to enforce that rule. At worst, some customers engaging in this behavior received an occasional pop-up notification, but were still permitted to continue using multiple streams.

If you want to stream to more than one device, you can always upgrade your account. Customers on a streaming-only plan can simply pay another $7.99 to activate 2-device streaming capabilities. Or, if you’re a DVD-and-streaming customer, you can go up to the 2-DVD plan for $19.98. Or the 3-DVD plan for $23.98, or the 4-DVD plan for $29.98.

And that’s about it. The story could begin and end with one sentence: Netflix is going to start enforcing that rule they’ve been kind enough to look the other way on for years.

But that’s not how the story is being spun. In fact, if you read the early media coverage (and fan reaction), this is a new rule, carved in stone by the heartless overlords at Netflix, who are incapable of showing customers anything but vicious greed.

Now, every one of those articles above knows that this one-stream-per-customer thing has always been a rule. They all mention it in the body of the article. I guess it’s just not sensational enough of a headline to say “Old Rule Now Enforced.” It’s catchier–and more inflammatory–to say “OMG, Netflix has a new restriction to take more of your money!”

Much Ado About Nothing

Many readers appear to be reacting quite negatively in the comment sections of those articles, on Twitter, and on Facebook. Why… because Netflix is charging them more? No… because Netflix is enforcing something that has been outlawed all along. The fact that users got away with multiple simultaneous streams doesn’t mean it was officially permitted.

On the highway, I speed all the time, like a lot of drivers; but when I get pulled over and the officer writes me a ticket, I can’t get anywhere by whining, “But I sped yesterday and you didn’t ticket me… so now you’re just being mean.”

To use a more appropriate analogy: let’s say you move into a new apartment, only to find that the cable service is still functioning. You watch a few months of free cable until one day the provider catches on and your signal is gone. Do you:

A. Tear your own shirt in a fit of righteous rage?

B. Whine about what the cable company took from you?

C. Count your blessings and realize you enjoyed some free benefits for a while?

Hopefully it’s “C.” If you answered A or B, then there’s probably nothing I’m going to say in this entire article that’s going to change your mind. You believe you are entitled to free things, and that’s just not a rational stance. Streaming video bandwidth is insanely expensive, which a lot of consumers don’t know. Expecting Netflix to offer multiple streams for the same price is like asking McDonald’s to sell you 10 cheeseburgers for the price of one. It’s unreasonable.

Look, I took plenty of heat the last time I stuck up for Netflix when the price hike was first announced–and I still say the service is a fair value even at the new higher price–and I’m not exactly itching to be the whipping boy again on this issue. But the fact of the matter is this: customers have zero right to be mad about Netflix enforcing this rule. Zero. This is not another price hike… not even close.

That won’t stop many from getting mad, but it won’t be a defensible anger.