T-Mobile Doubles Down On Its Blatant Lies, Says Claims It's Throttling Are 'Bullshit' And That I'm A 'Jerk'

from the they're-wrong-about-the-throttling,-maybe-not-on-the-jerk-thing dept

On Monday we wrote about T-Mobile flat out lying about the nature of its BingeOn mobile video service — and after a couple of days of silence, the company has come out swinging — by lying some more and weirdly attacking the people who have accurately portrayed the problems of the service. As a quick reminder, the company launched this service a few months ago, where the company claimed two things (though didn’t make it entirely clear how separate these two things were): (1) that the company would not count data for streaming video for certain “partner” companies and (2) that it would be “optimizing” video for all users (though through a convoluted process, you could opt-out).

There were a bunch of problems with this, starting with the fact that favoring some partner traffic over others to exempt it from a cap (i.e., zero rating) is a sketchy way to backdoor in net neutrality violations. But, the bigger issue was that almost everything about T-Mobile’s announcement implied that it was only “partner” video that was being “optimized” while the reality was that they were doing it for any video they could find (even downloaded, not streamed). The biggest problem of all, however, was that the video was not being “optimized” but throttled by slowing down video.

Once the throttling was called out, T-Mobile went on a weird PR campaign, flat out lying, and saying that what they were doing was “optimizing” not throttling and that it would make videos stream faster and save users data. However, as we pointed out, that’s blatantly false. Videos from YouTube, for example, were encrypted, meaning that T-Mobile had no way to “optimize” it, and tests from EFF proved pretty conclusively that the only thing T-Mobile was doing was slowing connection speeds down to 1.5 Mbps when it sensed video downloads of any kind (so not even streaming), and that actually meant that the full amount of data was going through in many cases, rather than an “optimized” file. EFF even got T-Mobile to admit that this was all they were doing.

So that makes the response of T-Mobile execs yesterday and today totally baffling because rather than actually respond to the charges, they’ve doubled down on the blatant lying, suggesting that either it’s executives have no idea what the company is actually doing, or that they are purposely lying to their users, which isn’t exactly the “uncarrier” way that the company likes to promote.

We’ll start with the big cheese himself, CEO John Legere, whose claim to fame is how “edgy” he is as a big company CEO. He’s now released a statement and a video that are in typical Legere outspoken fashion — but it’s full of blatant lies.

The video and the typed statement are fairly similar, but Legere adds some extra color in the video version.

Let’s parse some of the statements. I’ll mostly be using the ones from the written statement as they’re easier to cut and paste, rather than transcribe, but a few from the video are worth calling out directly.

I?ve seen and heard enough comments and headlines this week about our Binge On video service that it?s time to set the record straight. There are groups out there confusing consumers and questioning the choices that we fight so hard to give our customers. Clearly we have very different views of how customers get to make their choices — or even if they?re allowed to have choices at all! It?s bewildering ?so I want to talk about this.

Of course, this is a nice, but misleading attempt to frame the conversation. No one is complaining about “giving choices to consumers.” They’re complaining about (1) misleading consumers and (2) providing a worse overall experience by throttling which (3) directly violates the the FCC’s prohibition on throttling. The next part I’m taking from the video itself, rather than the printed statement, because Legere goes much further in the video, including the curses, which magically don’t show up in the printed version:

There are people out there saying we?re ?throttling.? That’s a game of semantics and it’s bullshit! That’s not what we’re doing. Really! What throttling is is slowing down data and removing customer control. Let me be clear. BingeOn is neither of those things.

This is flat out wrong and suggests Legere doesn’t even know the details of his own service. As the EFF’s tests proved (and the fact that YouTube videos are encrypted should make clear) T-Mobile is absolutely slowing down data. In fact, EFF got T-Mobile to confirm this, so Legere claiming it’s “bullshit” is… well… bullshit!

But he’s playing some tricky word games here, claiming that throttling is not just slowing down data, but also removing customer control. That’s (1) not true and (2) also misleading. For all of Legere and T-Mobile’s talk about “giving more options to consumers” or whatever, they’re totally leaving out the fact that they automatically turned this on for all users without a clear explanation as to what was happening, leading to multiple consumer complaints about how their streaming videos were no longer functioning properly — even for users on unlimited data plans.

Customer choice? Sure they could “opt-out” after through a convoluted process that many did not understand. But T-Mobile made the choice for all its users, rather than providing a choice for its customers to make.

Mobile customers don?t always want or need giant heavy data files. So we built technology to optimize for mobile screens and stream at a bitrate designed to stretch your mobile data consumption. You get the same quality of video as watching a DVD, but use only 1/3 as much data (or, of course, NO data used when it?s a Binge On content provider!). That’s not throttling. That’s a huge benefit.

Again, this is both wrong and misleading. There is no optimization. Legere is lying. They are 100% slowing down the throughput on video when they sense it. The EFF’s tests prove as much. Yes, for some video providers when they sense lower bandwidth, they will downgrade the resolution, but that’s the video provider optimizing, not T-Mobile. T-Mobile is 100% throttling, and hoping that the video provider downgrades the video.

But in cases where that doesn’t happen then it doesn’t save any data at all (the EFF test confirmed that the full video file still comes through, just slower).

Also, note the play on words “You get the same quality of video as watching a DVD.” At first you think he’s saying that you get the same video quality overall, but he’s not. He’s saying as a DVD, at 480p, which is lower than the 1080p that many HD videos are offered at. And that’s what many people are complaining about — that they’d like to watch videos at the full 1080p, but T-Mobile made the choice that they can’t do that unless they go through a convoluted process to turn this off.

Rather than respond to any of this, Legere then claims that “special interest groups” and Google are doing this…. “to get headlines.”

So why are special interest groups — and even Google! — offended by this? Why are they trying to characterize this as a bad thing? I think they may be using Net Neutrality as a platform to get into the news.

Wait, what? Google — the same Google that absolutely refused to say anything publicly at all about net neutrality for years during the debate suddenly wants to get into the news by jumping on the net neutrality bandwagon? Does Legere have any idea how ridiculous that sounds? And it’s not like Google has a problem getting into the news. And what about EFF and others? Does he really think they need to get extra news coverage?

But note the facts here: at no point does Legere respond to the actual charges leveled against the company. He then concludes by yelling at everyone for daring to complain about this:

At T-Mobile we’re giving you more video. More choice. And a powerful new choice in how you want your video delivered. What’s not to love? We give customers more choices and these jerks are complaining, who the hell do they think they are? What gives them the right to dictate what my customers, or any wireless consumer can choose for themselves?

Nice. I’m part of the contingent complaining about this and I’m also a T-Mobile customer… and the CEO just called me a jerk while telling me he’s fighting for his customers? Really now?

And again this whole statement is blatantly misleading. The “choice” was made by T-Mobile for all users, and getting out of it involves a convoluted process that most don’t understand and where none of this was made clear to end users. Beyond violating the FCC’s “no throttling” rule, I wonder if it also violates the FCC’s transparency rules as well, in which they are required to be much more upfront about how the data is being treated.

Also, the statement above is from the video where we’re described as “jerks,” but in the written version it leaves out the “jerks” claim, but also includes the following bit mocking YouTube for letting users choose to change the resolution on videos:

YouTube complained about Binge On, yet at the same time they claim they provide choice to customers on the resolution of their video. So it’s ok for THEM to give customers choice but not for US to give our customers a choice? Hmmm. I seriously don’t get it.

But that’s bullshit also. YouTube’s choice option there is a clear pulldown on every video shown, so that a user just needs to click on the video their watching and set the resolution. T-Mobile’s is a process that’s not clear at all, with some users reporting they had to call in and get T-Mobile customer service to turn BingeOn off for their account. To compare the two situations is completely bonkers.

As far as I can tell, Legere either doesn’t understand what his own company is doing technically, or knows and is purposely misrepresenting it. Neither of those look good and go against the entire “uncarrier” concept they keep pitching. I’d expect better as a T-Mobile customer than being told that I’m a “jerk” for pointing this out.

And it appears he’s not the only one among senior execs at T-Mobile who still don’t realize what their own company is doing. On Wednesday at a Citigroup conference, T-Mobile’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert spewed some more nonsense suggesting he, too, has no idea what his own company is doing:

At a Citigroup investor conference Wednesday, T-Mobile executives shot back, saying YouTube?s stance is ?absurd.? YouTube is owned by Alphabet Inc. ?We are kind of dumbfounded, that a company like YouTube would think that adding this choice would somehow be a bad thing,? said T-Mobile Chief Operating Officer Mike Sievert. He said YouTube hasn?t ?done the work yet to become part of the free service.?

Taken at face value, that comment makes no sense. If YouTube hasn’t done the work yet to become a part of the free service than why the fuck is T-Mobile slowing down its videos? YouTube wasn’t complaining about “adding this choice.” YouTube was complaining about direct throttling of video content by T-Mobile, in clear violation of the FCC’s prohibition on throttling.

Sievert and Legere both don’t seem to understand (1) what YouTube and users are complaining about or (2) what his own company is doing. That’s… troubling, given that these are the CEO and COO of the company. It really seems like T-Mobile execs might want to spend some time talking to its tech team to understand the fact that the only thing T-Mobile is doing to video is throttling it down to 1.5 Mbps, rather than any actual “optimization” before spewing more nonsense and calling their own customers “jerks.” And, they might want to realize that their claim that this is all “bullshit” is actually complete bullshit. And that their bullshit may very well violate the FCC’s rules.

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Comments on “T-Mobile Doubles Down On Its Blatant Lies, Says Claims It's Throttling Are 'Bullshit' And That I'm A 'Jerk'”

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

To you and me, the definition of what their technology does is: it throttles video transmissions to 1.5 Mbps. Nice and simple, no semantic games. This COULD be presented as a feature, if it were done honestly, and one could opt-out [which one can]. So close, T-Mo, you almost did it. But the subterfuge is never appreciated by the market.

Legere isn’t just playing with words. He’s playing with words, their meanings, context, and implications. To him:

It’s not “throttling” which is bad, it’s “optimization [throttling] that gives you the benefit of not hitting your cap as fast” which is good. See?

To him, because of the existence of a cap, throttling IS a good thing, and is synonymous with optimization.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

I could see this being quite useful if it was used honestly. I don’t want little Jimmy using up the family data plan because he wants to watch his video in 4k quality. If it could be strictly an opt out feature that can be enable/disabled from the account web page then it would be useful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

I think people are stilling missing the point.

If little Jimmy explicitly selects 4k, the very large 4k file will still be streamed/downloaded (just at 1.5Mbps) so it will not save the family from hitting the cap.

I’m assuming all it takes to become a partner is to ensure the partner is capable of detecting bandwidth and adjusting the stream quality accordingly.

This is T-Mobile doing absolutely nothing but throttling since they do not have technology to optimized video. The partners for BingeOn are the ones who have technology to optimize video. T-Mobile does not re-encode the stream/download before serving it to your mobile device.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

You are correct that it will take the same amount of data but you are not accounting for the attention span of the of a majority of mobile users. If they don’t have instant access to the content, it has already been forgotten and they are off to something else. Sure, there will be a few exceptions but it isn’t worth the wait for a lot of people.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

No. Most streaming video servers will detect the throttling as a network degradation, and respond by automatically dropping the resolution and bitrate.

Thus, this is incorrect:
“If little Jimmy explicitly selects 4k, the very large 4k file will still be streamed/downloaded (just at 1.5Mbps) so it will not save the family from hitting the cap.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: To Legere, Throttling IS Optimization

Imagine going into a restaurant, and ordering a four course meal. The restaurant has this new PigOut deal where, for specific items on their menu, you can eat as much as you want, at the fixed meal price. Other items on the menu are charged extra by volume eaten.

So, you order your favourite items, which don’t happen to be on the PigOut list. A while later, the first plate comes… with a thimble of soup on it. When you ask the waiter about this, they say they’re optimizing delivery, and when you’re finished your soup, they’ll come out with another thimblefull.

Eventually, you get to the entree, a leg of lamb. They come out with a chunk of bone.

When you complain, they assure you that you’ll get the entire leg, one piece at a time. But if you went for the chicken from their PigOut menu, it would be better optimized, as they debone it before serving, so you get a piece of meat each time.

Yeah, doesn’t quite work, but it shows how silly T-Mobile is being.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nobody ever told the tobacco executives their products were changing the world and making it a better place. These guys must feel like humanity is looking to them to solve all the world’s problems – although this guy seems like a low rent salesman who listens to rock and roll too loud and thinks he’s sticking it to the man.

Anonymous Coward says:

Speaking as a T-Mobile customer

and as a rather senior-level network engineer, I am not happy to see that T-Mobile is fucking with my data and lying about it AND labeling the people calling them out for it “jerks”.

I don’t use my mobile for video, but I do use it to (sporadically) download fairly large files containing tcpdumps of network traffic. As you might guess, when I have occasion to do this, it’s because someone’s hair is on fire and they want their network fixed NOW…so I need those files quickly…and now T-Mobile has decided to throttle my downloads because apparently they think that people only use their connections for entertainment AND NOT TO DO THEIR DAMN JOBS.

I haven’t been able to “opt out” yet: I’ll probably have to call customer service and deal with the morons there who will ignore what I want and try to sell me something instead. And now that T-Mobile’s done this, I have to wonder: what’s their next stupid move?

The only, and I mean the ONLY, reason that I’m still a T-Mobile customer today is that all the others suck too. But make no mistake about it: Legere is a lying asshole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Speaking as a T-Mobile customer

They will fix that in the next OS update for your smart phone by including a special T-Mobile SSL CA certificate and they will advertise this ‘improvement’ as “Binge-On Extreme”

Then they will be able to “inspect” that TLS traffic to see if its video or not and apply the proper throttle.

Lets just hope your network dumps don’t contain video traffic!

JD says:

Don't think of it...

Don’t think of it as me “canceling my contract with T-Mobile and filing a complaint with the FCC”. If you think I’m doing that then you’re a jerk and engaging in semantics and bullshit. And quite honestly I expect better of you. I’m merely optimizing my mobile data experience and giving T-Mobile the choice to acquire new customers! They should be thanking me for opting them in to this experience.

I call it “Purge On”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Sievert and Legere both don’t seem to understand (1) what YouTube and users are complaining about or (2) what his own company is doing.

I can imagine the communication associated with such statements.

“Would it be flat-out wrong if I stated suchandsuch, yes or no?” “In my opinion…” “Ah, a matter of opinion. Good enough for me.”

fluffy12 (profile) says:

You're all confused

He is correct. T-Mobile is “optimizing” the data. Your confusion is based on your frame of reference. You thought it should be from a user perspective rather than T-Mobile’s network view. The upper limit on network optimization would be when none of your data gets through. Infinite compression, albeit slightly lossy. Just hope Legere doesn’t go further to the dark side, as in, “I am altering the deal, pray I don’t alter it any further.”

crade (profile) says:

Re: You're all confused

Throttling can certainly help with optimization (not for the person being throttled obviously, but for the others). It’s still throttling though. Intentionally limiting movie traffic to 1.5mb/s is not just semantically throttling, not just technically throttling, its every sense of the word throttling. Even the “strangling a person” one.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Convolution

I think the most efficient method would be to provide the contact number for T-Mobile Customer/Tech Support and have everyone who wants to turn off BingeOn to call and have their support walk them through it, after first explaining how BingeOn works.

Don’t have the support just turn if off for them, that’ll take seconds on the phone. Have them perform a full walkthrough and make it as painful and timeconsuming as you can:

Support: First you have to login to your customer account page…
Customer: Whats the URL of the page?
Support: https://blah/login, once you’ve logged in…
Customer: could you please repeat that? h-t-t-p-s-ummm-semicolon-slash-slash-b-l-a-h-backslash-what was the rest?
Support: not semicolon, a colon, the 2 dots on top of each other, and a backslash, not a forward slash, then l-o-g-I-n. Then login…
Customer: wait the page is still loading…
Support: so once you’ve logged in…
Customer: wait still loading…ahh here it is. What do I need to enter to login?
Support: …

Anonymous Coward says:

Either CEO John Legere is completely ignorant of the technical side of his operation (possible, he’s a manager after all and not an engineer) and is listening to the corporate spin doctors for information, or he’s a bald-faced liar trying to justify his company’s violation of FCC rules.

Ignorance can be forgiven, and corrected. Larceny cannot. If he’s ignorant, he needs to get a phone from a neighbor, unrelated to him, with a T-Mobile account, and try to watch just about any video on it. Might open his eyes. Of course, we won’t get an apology even then. He’ll probably blame it on local network congestion or some such.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It may have been possible that he was ignorant about it at some point, but if he is preparing a video speech about it after knowing there is controversy, he would have done some due diligence. You don’t need to be an engineer to understand “the only thing we are doing is limiting all movies to 1.5 mb/s”

He could be willfully ignorant. For the bigwigs though, they don’t have to actually be ignorant, it is enough that you can’t prove they are not.

Gary (profile) says:


Optimal would be to not fiddle with the stream, and let the user select the rez with the handy YouTube control.
Video is already compressed. You can’t get much of a boost at all by compression. The only way to reduce the overhead is by increasing the degradation of the picture.

Aside – Was the CEO of T-Mobile actually posting a video of himself ranting like that while wearing a hoodie? I don’t want to make an ad hominem attack – his weak argument speaks for itself – but that just seems like he’s trying to shout, “I’m not a fatcat, you can trust me!”

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Optimal

Aside – Was the CEO of T-Mobile actually posting a video of himself ranting like that while wearing a hoodie? I don’t want to make an ad hominem attack – his weak argument speaks for itself – but that just seems like he’s trying to shout, “I’m not a fatcat, you can trust me!”

Or they just don’t have T-Mobile branded suits.

Anonymous Coward says:


Definition: make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).

So, if I squint, I could agree that T-Mobile is “making the best of an opportunity”… but only for themselves.

This is certainly not the optimal experience from a user perspective.

There is no optimal experience for a user when the situation is a company trying to maximize profits and minimize customer turn-over.

Skridg (profile) says:

Really? DVD?

After a decade of electronics manufacturers telling us that 1080 video is the wave of the future, the home movie industry selling us high definition versions of the movies we already own, streaming services pushing out 4K video through the tubes, and many high and mid-tier phones selling HD and quad HD as selling points, you really think anyone with their fingers anywhere NEAR the pulse of online video streaming (think finger on the patella when they were aiming for the carotid artery “near”) is going to fall for being told they have a “choice” to stream DVD-quality video? Hey Johnny, stop huffing spray tan and get a clue!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Really? DVD?

To be fair, 480p is more than high enough resolution for a smartphone screen, even if many can technically display 1080p now.

Of course, that’s for streaming; if I’m downloading something, I don’t want throttling, and I don’t want bait and switch between 1080 and 480 on locally stored content OR streaming. Which means they shouldn’t be throttling unless they’ve got an agreement with the content provider to do so, and the CP indicates the limited options available over T-Mobile’s connection.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Not directly related, but I recently tried to unlock an AT&T phone. AT&T provides a “phone unlock portal” that lets you largely automate the process; they only insist that it’s an AT&T phone, is fully paid for, isn’t reported as stolen — all reasonable stuff.

To do the same thing at T-Mobile you have to get into their customer service pages. They also have similar requirements — plus you not only need to be a current customer, but the phone you’re unlocking has to be currently active on a T-Mobile account.

Of course, this isn’t customer service, technically. I’m a former customer (though I do have service via an MVNO, but I’d have been as happy with AT&T’s network and it’s really just a backup phone anyway). Technically, they don’t actually owe me anything. But T-Mobile has just told me that it doesn’t give a fuck about its former customers and that they don’t want me back. Ever. The way I see it, Mr. Legere is just validating that impression, and making sure it’s clear that it doesn’t want its present customers, either.

It’s OK. The feeling is mutual. Pretty happy with Ting right now anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

> through a convoluted process, you could opt-out

There’s a bright pink button in the middle of the homepage after you log in to your account that says “ON” and you can click it and it changes to a gray button that says “OFF.” It’s objectively not “convoluted.”

Don’t get me wrong, I think T-Mobile is showing some serious internal and external communication issues, but the author of this article does a poor job of articulating himself when all he can do is repeat “convoluted process” four times without giving any additional information as to what that means. It doesn’t give much credence to the rest of the article’s accuracy, and just comes off as sensationalist.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What web page? Where? Do i need to create an online login to access it? This is not stuff the average consumer finds simple.

And why is it a web page, and not a setting in the phone menu?

And why do some report not seeing it, or it’s greyed out?

It’s as simple as a disclaimer buried in the Terms of Service.. As in: hard to find, hard to understand, and not publicized or clearly disclosed.

M. Alan Thomas II (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

What web page? T-Mobile.com, the website of T-Mobile, the company we’re talking about. Why, did you think it might be hidden on Verizon’s?

Do you need to create a login to access it? Yes, you have to click the hot pink “SIGN UP” button if you have not done so in the past. If you’ve forgotten your username, it’s your phone number. If you’ve forgotten your password, they can text it to you. (Not terribly secure, no, but not hard, either.) As someone who works in a public library, I can confirm that some people have trouble with stuff like this, but they also usually don’t know how to use a smart phone.

Why is it not a setting in the phone menu? I don’t know why it’s not a setting in the phone menu. I don’t recall any T-Mobile-specific settings in my running-vanilla-Android phone menu; should my provider be inserting their own controls into my phone menu?

Why do some people report not seeing it or it’s greyed out? THOSE are excellent questions. No idea. I hear there’s some conflict with some legacy data stash plans and so on, which DO have some sort of super-secret opt-out site. You should probably lead with those issues.

fairuse (profile) says:

OMG, the snake oil wagon arrived

There comes a time in any business model to add the Smoke and Mirrors chapter. Appendix A is the draft copy for snake oil marketing.

I will not pretend to understand the video I watched. I do have enough experience with marketing folks to spot the care that went into the look of the stage he was talking from. !00% flimflam.

David says:

Better than Comcast.

Comcast throttles customer in order to charge them more for unthrottling. At least T-Mobile appears to actually do this out of actually needing the capacities.

So, uh, T-Mobile is not trying to steal money from their customers with flimsy pretense but bandwidth: they don’t try reselling that stolen bandwidth to the same customers.

And you can opt out: so they try stealing only from those who don’t protest.

The end result is similar: you are dealing with people you cannot trust and thus any savings are offset by the time and energy you need to invest for constantly monitoring your “partner’s” actions.

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