What Net Neutrality? T-Mobile Abusing Its 'Binge-On' Effort To Throttle Non-Partner Video

from the the-war-on-net-neutrality dept

For quite some time now, we've pointed out that the whole zero rating issue was a way for broadband providers to conduct a stealth war on net neutrality -- first putting in place "restrictions" that they could then "lift" for partners, pretending it was a consumer friendly move. Last month, T-Mobile introduced Binge-on, it's second such attempt at zero rating. Its first, Music Freedom, exempted some streaming music services from its data caps. Binge-On focused on video, but had a few oddities. Like Music Freedom, Binge On would make "select" video streaming platforms exempt from the data cap -- but in order to do that, it would downgrade the quality of those streams to 480p, a lower resolution than most are used to these days. It was notable that neither YouTube nor Amazon Prime were included "partners" in the launch.

But... some people started noticing some problems: specifically, even those services that have not partnered with T-Mobile started seeing their own videos downgraded. The complaints started to flow on Reddit: someone noticed that Amazon-owned Twitch.tv's videos were suddenly being throttled. Others noticed YouTube videos being throttled. In both cases, those users were able to "fix" the problem by going into their account and turning off Binge On, but it still seemed troubling that T-Mobile had decided to automatically turn on Binge On for users, downgrading streaming video, even for video providers who had not agreed to such provisions.

Given all this, some started noting that this appeared to be a clear net neutrality violation by T-Mobile, which has a brightline rule against throttling:
Degrading video quality this way violates the FCC’s no-throttling part of the net neutrality rule, which forbids reducing the quality of an application or an entire class of applications. Even though T-Mobile and its brilliant CEO, John Legere, have done much to shake up the mobile industry in positive ways (they even won me over as a subscriber), this is one practice that the company should, and probably must, abandon.

As a purely legal matter, T-Mobile cannot easily defend its actions by arguing that this discrimination is good for its users. The FCC has already rejected that argument in advance by adopting a “bright-line” rule for all technical forms of discrimination absent some special technical justification. After hearing from millions of Americans throughout 2014, the FCC decided earlier this year that “the record overwhelmingly supports adopting rules and demonstrates that three specific practices invariably harm the open Internet,” and named one of them throttling.
And now YouTube itself has come out and accused T-Mobile of violating net neutrality (paywalled WSJ article):
YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet Inc., said T-Mobile is effectively throttling, or degrading, its traffic. “Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent,” a YouTube spokesman said.
T-Mobile -- which has never been a fan of the new net neutrality rules, seems to think that because the service is "optional" that makes it okay. But that ignores two key things: (1) the FCC's rules say no throttling and (2) even if it is optional, T-Mobile turned it on for everyone, without telling users, and has not made it at all clear to users what's happening. That is, in every complaint you see online, you'll notice that people have no idea that this service has been turned on.

That makes it hard to square with the idea that this is for the benefit of T-Mobile subscribers. T-Mobile's only statement on this issue so far is also totally disingenuous:
In a statement, the No. 3 U.S. carrier by subscribers said its customers “love having free streaming video that never hits their data bucket” and like “both the quality of their video experience and the complete control they have.”
Again, this is T-Mobile exempting certain services from the data caps it set up itself. If customers love having streaming video that doesn't hit their data caps, then there are all sorts of ways to do that, which don't involve messing up the user experience overall, and without surreptitiously turning this system on in a way that messes up the plans of users.

Over the last few months, we've seen basically all of the major telcos look for ways to test the boundaries of the new net neutrality rules. At some point the FCC is going to have to smack them down or the tests are going to get more anti-consumer and more blatant. And, again, don't be fooled into thinking this is a "pro" consumer move in that it exempts data from the cap. That's like someone tackling you and then demanding to be called a nice guy for giving you a hand to get back up. The data caps are set by T-Mobile itself. The argument pretending that an exemption is somehow consumer friendly should immediately be spun around to point out that the caps themselves are then clearly anti-consumer.

Either way, one hopes that the FCC is actually paying attention, otherwise the telcos are going to keep moving to walk all over the new rules, with plans like this one, figuring out where and how they can throttle or prioritize traffic based on the providers' own needs, rather than based on what the internet allows.

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    kP (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 8:31am

    Two Things

    1) I switched to Project Fi and haven't looked back
    2) Anyone who is spending their time "bingeing" on cell phone video should lay down the phone, look around, and interact with humanity

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2015 @ 9:01am

      Re: Two Things

      I really wish I could support Project Fi but their plans just don't work for me yet.
      I used up 8.71GB of data Sep 19-Oct 18
      21.29GB of data Oct 19-Nov 18
      43.30GB of data Nov 19-Dec 18
      And I'm currently up to 28.02GB of data from Dec 19.

      Google Fi only goes up to 10GB plans and even that is more than I pay a month now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2015 @ 9:02am

      Re: Two Things

      2) Anyone who is spending their time "bingeing" on cell phone video should lay down the phone, look around, and interact with humanity

      That sentiment ignores all those people who for various reasons use a mobile service as their prime or only service. This includes all those peole who lost landline service due to Sandy and have been pushed onto mobile services. The more the Telcos can do what they want with mobile broadband, the less incentive they have to maintain landline services

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 8:59am

    T-Mobile turned it on for everyone, without telling users, and has not made it at all clear to users what's happening.
    Inaccurate information.

    I received a text.

    My wife received both a text and email.

    The only reason I didn't get the email was lack of updating my account info (email no longer used).

    While Binge-On was enabled by default, following the step-by-step instructions contained within the information sent by T-Mobile made switching it off easy to do.

    The more likely scenario is people received the information sent by T-Mobile and chose to ignore it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 9:46am

      Re:

      Inaccurate information.

      I received a text.

      My wife received both a text and email.


      I have T-Mobile. I received neither an email nor a text. I just went back and checked both. I have all my t-mobile texts, and there are none about this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2015 @ 10:32am

        Re: Re:

        ...I received neither an email nor a text...


        There's a possibility - one that I recently experienced - where a third party relay will reject an email for a BS reason. I use a payment processor and recently logged in to find a message that recent email had been rejected. They actually retained the rejection message: it was a 500 series error and when I looked it up it was defined as 'sender sending too many messages'. The sender is a payment processor and thus will have a large volume of emails! The message included the IP address of the rejecter; when I looked that up it was a cloud relay service. The problem is the nature of TCP/IP can result in emails being bounced through multiple relays before getting to the recipient, and both sender and recipient has no control over such relays.

        I'm not that experienced with texts but if the routing is the same as email this issue might exist there, too.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 26 Dec 2015 @ 11:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I'm not that experienced with texts but if the routing is the same as email this issue might exist there, too.

          I don't think text messages are sent over the internet.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        WDS (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 12:03pm

        Re: Re:

        I didn't receive anything from t-Mobile, but I also don't have a capped data plan with them. I have their unlimited plan. I don't really do a lot of streaming with the phone, so don't know if my video is being throttled or not.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy2020 (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 10:07am

      Re:

      I have T-mobile and didn't get anything about it either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      AC Unknown (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 11:29am

      Re:

      I have T-Mobile and I didn't get a text about it either (and I save all texts from them).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2015 @ 9:07am

    "T-Mobile -- which has never been a fan of the new net neutrality rules, seems to think that because the service is "optional" that makes it okay."

    Isn't the whole point of net neutrality that you can't optionally make it more convenient for users to use one service over another? That's no different than an ISP prioritizing their video service and saying that this is OK because the use of their video service is 'optional'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 10:49am

    And, again, don't be fooled into thinking this is a "pro" consumer move in that it exempts data from the cap. That's like someone tackling you and then demanding to be called a nice guy for giving you a hand to get back up.

    This is a great explanation, Mike. You should repeat it in variations whenever the subject of zero rating comes up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    BentFranklin (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 10:50am

    "And, again, don't be fooled into thinking this is a "pro" consumer move in that it exempts data from the cap. That's like someone tackling you and then demanding to be called a nice guy for giving you a hand to get back up."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 23 Dec 2015 @ 11:34am

    Caps are the problem

    In a statement, the No. 3 U.S. carrier by subscribers said its customers “love having free streaming video that never hits their data bucket” and like “both the quality of their video experience and the complete control they have.”

    How about dropping Caps? Then we would not have to worry either way. I am currently an Unlimited Data customer of T-Mobile (and they turned on Binge-On for me, like everyone else), have been since they first offered it in 2008 or so. Why should we have them, they are not necessary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Franco, 24 Dec 2015 @ 11:20am

    Lazy = Violation?

    So because people are too lazy to disable it....it's a violation?

    so if t-mobile makes it an opt in option things are settled.


    so i guess when they throttle my VPN, Torrents....its a violation. why is no one crying about that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.