John Legere Just Can't Stop The Misleading Bullshit About BingeOn

from the give-it-up,-john,-it's-over dept

The big story of last week was T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s meltdown over people calling out the bullshit claims about BingeOn “optimizing” mobile video when the truth is that it was simply throttling all video traffic (partners and non partners alike). Things got even worse when Legere decided to attack EFF and suggest that it was being paid to discredit BingeOn. The simple fact remains, however, that T-Mobile is throttling video streams (and downloads).

Legere briefly went quiet about all of this, but on Monday came out again with yet another statement in the form of an “Open Letter to Consumers about Binge On” which is at least a little more honest, but is still mostly misleading bullshit — the very thing T-Mobile has built its recent reputation on avoiding.

We invented Binge On to provide customers with an easy and effective way to stretch their data bucket. Knowing that the number one (and climbing) use of data out there is video, it was obviously the natural place to focus. Binge On is like an economy button built into a new car to save gas, and it?s a benefit that customers got the minute we launched, to use it as much as they want to. Period.

Again that sounds good but is totally misleading. First of all, it’s T-Mobile that sets the data buckets in the first place. So relieving consumers of the burden that T-Mobile itself placed on consumers is not a consumer-friendly move. It’s punching someone and then claiming you’re being nice by offering them a hand to get them off the ground. If you start the anti-consumer practice, it’s not pro-consumer to roll back a tiny part of it.

Binge On is a FREE benefit given to all T-Mobile customers. It is and always has been a feature that helps you stretch your data bucket by optimizing ALL of your video for your mobile devices.

If this were truly a “benefit” then why does it also apply to unlimited accounts (like mine)? Unlimited account holders don’t need or want this “benefit” (and it’s not really much of a benefit as we’ll get to).

We use our proprietary techniques to attempt to detect all video, determine its source, identify whether it should be FREE and finally adjust all streams for a smaller/handheld device.  (Most video streams come in at incredibly high resolution rates that are barely detectable by the human eye on small device screens and this is where the data in plans is wasted).  The result is that the data in your bucket is stretched by delivering streamed video in DVD quality – 480p or better (whether you have a 2GB, 6GB or 10GB plan etc.) so your data lasts longer.  Putting aside the 38+ services for which we provide FREE data for video through Binge On, as discussed below ? this ?stretching? of your data bucket is estimated to allow you to watch UP TO 3X MORE VIDEO from your data plan than before. This is a huge step forward.

Again, it’s worth remembering that when T-Mobile launched this supposedly consumer-friendly offering, they completely hid the fact that it applied to all video, implying strongly that it only applied to partners. In fact, the company’s CTO argued that it was not even possible to identify many YouTube videos — a claim that turned out to be one of the many lies T-Mobile has spread over this mess.

Second, T-Mobile keeps claiming that most users can’t tell the difference between 480p videos and higher quality HD videos, but that’s bullshit. In many cases the difference in quality is quite obvious. And, again, if this was all about having your data “last longer” there would be no reason at all to turn it on for unlimited account holders.

Also note that T-Mobile is being a bit misleading here, as its original marketing on BingeOn noted that the free video streaming did not apply to accounts that had less than 3GB on their caps:

Next up, Legere continues to pretend that this is clearly a beneficial service that his customers wanted, despite many, many users saying that they wanted no such thing:

As with virtually all of our Un-carrier benefits, we immediately gave it to everyone! First we reached out to all of our customers via email and SMS message, and told them all about the new functionality that was coming their way. Then we turned it on, for everyone! So if you are a T-Mobile customer ? you already have Binge On!

Again, this makes absolutely no sense for unlimited accounts, and the fact that it’s not opt-in is just silly:

We strive to default all of our customer benefits to ?ON.? We don?t like to make customers dig around to find great new benefits — that is something a traditional carrier would do when they really hope you, the consumer, won?t take any action. Can you imagine the disappointment, if people saw our TV commercials about Binge On, then went to watch 10 hours of video expecting it to be free, and only THEN learned that they needed to go into their settings to activate this new benefit? That?s how the Carriers would do it, but not T-Mobile. Everyone has it from day 1, period.

So instead of making customers dig around to find this (which is not a “great new benefit”), they make customers dig around to find how to turn it off because they don’t want it. That’s exactly how the big carriers do things. And, once again, there’s simply no reason why it should ever be turned on for unlimited data users.

But here?s the thing, and this is one of the reasons that Binge On is a VERY ?pro? net neutrality capability — you can turn it on and off in your MyTMobile account ? whenever you want. Turn it on and off at will. Customers are in control. Not T-Mobile. Not content providers. Customers. At all times.

This is what T-Mobile is banking on as the reason why it’s not violating the bright line rule against throttling in the FCC’s net neutrality rules — because there’s a small “out” in the rules, saying that the no throttling rule doesn’t apply to choices made by the end user to throttle traffic. Of course, that’s assuming a situation where the end user proactively decides to slow down certain types of traffic, not where it’s forced upon them, and there’s a convoluted process to opt-out of it.

Either way none of this addresses the actual concerns raised by many T-Mobile subscribers: T-Mobile lied. It said that it was “optimizing” the video when the truth is that it was just slowing down the video. It doesn’t change the fact that T-Mobile was far from transparent in explaining that this throttling (not optimizing) applied to all video, even with non-partner video. Finally, T-Mobile lied in insisting that this “optimization” would make videos load faster, when the reality is that for many video services it neither saves any data (the full file is downloaded, just slower), nor does it speed things up. Instead, it makes it buffer when there’s plenty of available bandwidth.

That’s what people are complaining about and T-Mobile ignores all of it, continuing to insist that BingeOn is nothing but a consumer friendly offering.

In the end, Legere gives a weak apology to the EFF that again fails to recognize why so many people took issue with his characterization of the EFF (“who the fuck are you? and who pays you?”) and pretends that it’s just about a difference of opinion:

I will however apologize for offending EFF and its supporters. Just because we don?t completely agree on all aspects of Binge On doesn?t mean I don?t see how they fight for consumers. We both agree that it is important to protect consumers’ rights and to give consumers value. We have that in common, so more power to them. As I mentioned last week, we look forward to sitting down and talking with the EFF and that is a step we will definitely take. Unfortunately, my color commentary from last week is now drowning out the real value of Binge On ? so hopefully this letter will help make that clear again.

The problem wasn’t “offending” EFF, it was that EFF did a good job exposing what T-Mobile is actually doing, and rather than responding to them, you freaked out, attacked them and their credibility and acted like they were some nobody shills. That’s not offensive, it’s stupid and raises serious questions about T-Mobile’s intentions.

Again, what is the “value” of BingeOn, other than throttling video down? Legere still keeps insisting things that aren’t really true at all. It’s too bad, because Legere had built up T-Mobile to be customer friendly and his reaction to this whole situation has done serious damage to that reputation.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: eff, t-mobile

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “John Legere Just Can't Stop The Misleading Bullshit About BingeOn”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Second, T-Mobile keeps claiming that most users can’t tell the difference between 480p videos and higher quality HD videos, but that’s bullshit. In many cases the difference in quality is quite obvious.

Actually that’s probably the most legitimat thing he said in the whole piece. People like to say how much better high-resolution video looks, but actual tests show time and time again that they can’t actually tell the difference reliably. In fact, most people will consistently rate a lower-res video as higher quality than a higher resolution one, if the low-res one is displayed on a larger screen.

Sad, but true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

do you have any links to these studies. its mind boggling that what you say can be true. video is very easy to differentiate between 480p and 720p. 720p and 1080p becomes a lot harder until the screen size greatly increases.

on my iphone 5 i can easily tell the difference between 480p and 720p youtube videos.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Note that he didn’t say they couldn’t tell the difference, only that they rate the video as higher quality. And actually, that makes sense, because super hi-def video is quite ugly, except in some rare, outdoorsy/naturey kind of settings. Hi-def video shows us stuff we don’t want to see, and for those of us used to low-def all of our lives, it brings to mind the uncanny valley.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve had people tell me that they couldn’t tell the difference… until I showed them the difference.

In one case it was someone who was watching the HD service they were paying for, on an SD TV. In a couple cases it was people using an “upscaling” DVD player and, gullibly believing that they were now seeing HD, not seeing a difference.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In my case, I can see that there’s a difference, but for most video, the difference doesn’t affect my viewing pleasure at all. So I watch most online video in SD, unless it’s something where there are smaller details that are part of the plot, and need to be seen crisply. Then I switch to 720p, which is generally more than enough (as 720p is what the studio is setting the baseline against, so they make sure that their product “works” at that resolution).

Anything requiring 1080p or above probably shouldn’t be watched on a 4″ screen — because even if the screen can display it faithfully, my eyes sure can’t see that clearly anymore.

michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“So I watch most online video in SD, unless it’s something where there are smaller details that are part of the plot”

This may shock you, but not everyone watches video solely for entertainment. If you need a screencast (which makes up about 50% of my online video viewing), 480p vs. 720p is the difference between a blurry mess and readable text.

FamilyManFirst (profile) says:

Re: video quality

Moreover, that’s the irony of this whole mess. If T-Mobile had limited BingeOn’s effects to only partners whom they had worked with to auto-adjust the quality, and left out the throttling, they could legitimately call this a customer benefit. There are still the issues of opt-in/opt-out and just how easy or difficult they make it to turn it off and on, but those are less important to most people. It’s the throttling that brought on the uproar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In fact, most people will consistently rate a lower-res video as higher quality than a higher resolution one, if the low-res one is displayed on a larger screen

Screen size can be more important than the resolution, especially if your eyes aren’t the best and the screen is only a few inches. That’s not the same as saying that the better resolution can’t be noticed when you’re actually comparing apples to apples.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Another bad analogy

Some cars have an economy mode button that does save gas. Or sometimes a sport button that increases gas consumption when enabled.

Limiting how fast you accelerate saves gas
Adjusting when the car shifts can save gas

The difference might be rather small but you can indeed save gas through more methods than simply reducing the number of cylinders.

You can also save on gas and brake wear by not racing idiots to red lights or stopped traffic.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Another bad analogy

Most modern engines with more than 4 cylinders and some with 4 will start “dropping” cylinders at cruise speeds, shutting off the spark and fuel to individual cylinders so the vehicle is only running on maybe 3 or 4 of the eight.

The PCM can change the cylinders around so this is transparent to the driver.

It isn’t the same as the old GM 4/6/8 but it traces its roots there.

That aside, as mentioned, many cars have economy buttons which not only change the shift strategies but also the spark and fuel mappings.

And yes they work really well.

Thomas (profile) says:

Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

I think the CTO is right, they can’t detect if the data coming from Youtube is video or not.

However, they can see you’re connecting to Youtube, and they can just limit all Youtube traffic to a specific speed. Then the Google speed detector picks the 480p quality. You just don’t notice being limited in speed when looking at lists etc.

Alternatively, they could use connection tracking to possibly see when a specific connection has lasted long enough that it’s either a huge file download or a streamed video.

Really this is a difference without a distinction. It doesn’t matter if they can detect video traffic or not if they can make a good enough guess to limit it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

However, they can see you’re connecting to Youtube…

No. They can’t. Nor can they reliably tell when you’re connecting to anyone else.


Because the contemporary Internet uses an incredibly complex system of content delivery networks, caches, cloud providers, and other moving parts to serve up things like video. Thus video streams from YouTube and J.Random.Service may actually share large chunks of the same infrastructure. And since the stream is delivered (we hope) via HTTPS, it’s opaque to T-Mobile. AND on top of all of that, this infrastructure isn’t static: it changes on-the-fly (in response to load and outages) and it changes over time (as services are turned up or turned off).

This results in a crazy-quilt pattern of traffic that is often difficult to understand even for those of us who built it. So if T-Mobile is claiming that they can differentiate it, that their engineers have a handle on this, that they have somehow figured out how to solve this in software, then my response will be a resounding “bullshit”.

Which is why, as I pointed out last week, they’re throttling my (large) tcpdump downloads — which aren’t even video in the first place. They can’t tell.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

https doesn’t block the host.

If you have followed by a large stream, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening. Plus, any changes are going to be noticed pretty quickly by viewing hosts and the sizes coming from them for all users.

For example, if YouTube started using Akamai servers, it would become apparent within 10 users. YouTube followed by Akamai = throttle that Akamai connection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

Yes, I KNOW that HTTPS does not stop one from observing the source/destination address and the source/destination port. However, that is insufficient to identify the source of (most) video streams, because most of them are coming from hosts that serve MANY content providers, and because there’s no way to correlate TCP connection A, which terminated on a host known to be operated by Google, with connection B, which terminates on a host operated by Akami. You can’t even do that for one source host — not reliably — there is no way you could it for millions.

The net’s plumbing is not in the same simple, easy-to-understand state that it was 20 years ago. What you’re thinking of would have worked then — but it has very little chance of working now.

zboot (profile) says:

Re: Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

I don’t think you were involved with “building” the net. https encrypts content, not source or destination. HTTPS works over HTTP. So how exactly is it that they won’t see the source of a given packet is youtube?

Unless someone along the way is caching youtube and responding to t-mobile’s requests, your comment doesn’t make much sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

Demographics being what they are, I’ve probably been working on the Internet since before you born. That said: read my followup to the other comment similar to yours. Neither of you understand the complexity of the content delivery, caching, and cloud operations out there. It’s not as simple as “any connection to is a connection to YouTube is a connection to a video stream”. Those days are long gone.

I suggest that both of you try learning a little bit about how the various streaming (video, audio, etc.) services actually work before presuming that this is an easily-solved problem. It’s not.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

My, aren’t you clever. I didn’t realize that https meant encrypted until you did all caps bolded text at me. Oh wait, no, I do know that, and I don’t have as high an opinion of https “encryption” as I guess you do.

Also, the metadata of the packets is not encrypted.

Also, you’re the moron if you really think all big ISPs are not doing DPI constantly.

NorthWarden says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Detecting video in HTTPS is probably impossible

True, the metadata is not encrypted. That being said, YouTube just uses the Google server farms now. Your ISP will absolutely be able to tell that you’re talking HTTPS to a Google IP, but since the data itself is encrypted (including the hostname) it will not know that it’s data. It may be able to tell by how the flow of traffic is going (eg. constant rate in the same flow for 5 minutes), but not by any actual content therein.

PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The button is right there on the home page when you log in to either the website or on your phone.

There’s a giant magenta button that says ON in big white letters. Clicking the button turns if off.

It’s not like they buried it three screens deep in Settings > Advanced Settings > Video Settings > Advanced Video Settings or something.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Data Cap Punching Analogy

It’s punching someone and then claiming you’re being nice by offering them a hand to get them off the ground.

Way to steal my analogy, Mike.

Applauding T-Mobile for this move is like thanking a guy for only punching you in the face once. “Hey, I was going to punch you in the face twice, but I changed my mind. That guy over there? He’d punch you in the face three times. You made the right choice.”

Clearly I have the copyright on punching based analogies as applied to Binge-On.

You’ll be hearing from my lawyers.


(It’s a good analogy, not surprising that parallel construction happens.)

Anonymous Coward says:

What really strikes me is that Legere spends a lot of time speaking about how beneficial this BingeOn is. He spends very little time if any at all actually addressing the throttling part.

So he’s selling this idea it’s great but not wanting to say anything about throttling. It’s a typical dodge when you don’t want to address or answer questions. You see this time and again with the politicians. It’s called change the subject.

Anonymous Coward says:

so why doesn’t Legere just become acquainted with what his company is actually doing, understand the effects on it in general and on customers in particular before making a prick of himself? has he not learned yet that no matter what statement is put out, who puts it out and what the statement is concerned with, there is always someone who works out exactly what effect it has on customers and that no amount of bullshit will cover up the truth??

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
10:50 NY AG Proves Broadband Industry Funded Phony Public Support For Attack On Net Neutrality (10)
06:24 The GOP Is Using Veterans As Props To Demonize Net Neutrality (22)
06:03 Telecom Using Veterans As Props To Demonize California's New Net Neutrality Law (12)
09:32 AT&T Whines That California Net Neutrality Rules Are Forcing It To Behave (11)
06:23 The New York Times (Falsely) Informs Its 7 Million Readers Net Neutrality Is 'Pointless' (51)
15:34 Facebook's Australian News Ban Did Demonstrate The Evil Of Zero Rating (18)
04:58 'Net Neutrality Hurt Internet Infrastructure Investment' Is The Bad Faith Lie That Simply Won't Die (11)
05:48 Dumb New GOP Talking Point: If You Restore Net Neutrality, You HAVE To Kill Section 230. Just Because! (66)
06:31 DOJ Drops Ridiculous Trump-Era Lawsuit Against California For Passing Net Neutrality Rules (13)
06:27 The Wall Street Journal Kisses Big Telecom's Ass In Whiny Screed About 'Big Tech' (13)
10:45 New Interim FCC Boss Jessica Rosenworcel Will Likely Restore Net Neutrality, Just Not Yet (5)
15:30 Small Idaho ISP 'Punishes' Twitter And Facebook's 'Censorship' ... By Blocking Access To Them Entirely (81)
05:29 A Few Reminders Before The Tired Net Neutrality Debate Is Rekindled (13)
06:22 U.S. Broadband Speeds Jumped 90% in 2020. But No, It Had Nothing To Do With Killing Net Neutrality. (12)
12:10 FCC Ignores The Courts, Finalizes Facts-Optional Repeal Of Net Neutrality (19)
10:46 It's Opposite Day At The FCC: Rejects All Its Own Legal Arguments Against Net Neutrality To Claim It Can Be The Internet Speech Police (13)
12:05 Blatant Hypocrite Ajit Pai Decides To Move Forward With Bogus, Unconstitutional Rulemaking On Section 230 (178)
06:49 FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion (25)
06:31 The EU Makes It Clear That 'Zero Rating' Violates Net Neutrality (6)
06:22 DOJ Continues Its Quest To Kill Net Neutrality (And Consumer Protection In General) In California (11)
11:08 Hypocritical AT&T Makes A Mockery Of Itself; Says 230 Should Be Reformed For Real Net Neutrality (28)
06:20 Trump, Big Telecom Continue Quest To Ban States From Protecting Broadband Consumers (19)
06:11 Senators Wyden And Markey Make It Clear AT&T Is Violating Net Neutrality (13)
06:31 Net Neutrali-what? AT&T's New Streaming Service Won't Count Against Its Broadband Caps. But Netflix Will. (25)
06:23 Telecom's Latest Dumb Claim: The Internet Only Works During A Pandemic Because We Killed Net Neutrality (49)
13:36 Ex-FCC Staffer Says FCC Authority Given Up In Net Neutrality Repeal Sure Would Prove Handy In A Crisis (13)
06:27 Clarence Thomas Regrets Brand X Decision That Paved Way For The Net Neutrality Wars (11)
06:17 The FCC To Field More Comments On Net Neutrality. Maybe They'll Stop Identity Theft And Fraud This Time? (79)
08:56 AT&T, Comcast Dramatically Cut Network Spending Despite Net Neutrality Repeal (16)
06:18 Ajit Pai Hits CES... To Make Up Some Shit About Net Neutrality (24)
More arrow