Netflix Applauds T-Mobile's Binge On, Forgets It Opposed Zero Rating Just Last Year

from the principles-for-sale dept

Last year, you might recall that Netflix took some heat for striking zero rating deals with Australian ISPs, exempting Netflix content from broadband usage caps. Australia was a relatively unique scenario in that the cost of transit is so high, most big content services had struck similar deals, and Netflix didn't want to put itself at a disadvantage in the newly launched Australian market by stubbornly holding on to neutrality principles. Still, it's worth recalling what Netflix said after a few weeks of criticism:
"Data caps inhibit Internet innovation and are bad for consumers. In Australia, we recently sought to protect our new members from data caps by participating in ISP programs that, while common in Australia, effectively condone discrimination among video services (some capped, some not). We should have avoided that and will avoid it going forward. Fortunately, most fixed-line ISPs are raising or eliminating data caps in line with our belief that ISPs should provide great video for all services in a market and let consumers do the choosing."
And what it specifically said about zero rating content:
"Zero rating isn't great for consumers as it has the potential to distort consumer choice in favor of choices selected by an ISP."
Fast forward to 2016, and Netflix is suddenly throwing its support behind T-Mobile and its controversial Binge On zero rating program. Speaking on the company's earnings call this week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings praised Binge On, which throttles every shred of video that touches the T-Mobile network to 1.5 Mbps, whether or not consumers or content partners asked it to. According to Hastings, he's thrilled about the program because it has driven more usage to Netflix:
"It’s voluntary to the customer. Every customer of T-Mobile can decide to turn it on or turn it off," Hastings explained on an earnings call today. "They’re not charging any of the providers. It’s an open program. Many of our competitors such as Hulu and HBO are in the program also." Netflix may be more inclined to defend this program because the company benefits from it: Hastings says that Netflix is seeing more viewership from T-Mobile customers — no surprise since it makes "unlimited video consumption possible." Hastings added that he hopes these kinds of programs expand further."
But as the EFF has pointed out, the fact that users can opt out is irrelevant. T-Mobile's been throttling every shred of video that touches its network to 1.5 Mbps (streamed or direct downloaded) by default, and then lying about it. Critics like YouTube and the EFF have, quite correctly, pointed out that such a program should be opt-in, for both consumers and content partners. The other problem is simply one of precedent; let T-Mobile dick about with how content gets treated, and that opens the door to every carrier modifying traffic to their own benefit.

By refusing to ban zero rating outright, the FCC has opened the door to a flood of similar ideas that are even worse and, cumulatively and aggressively, are eroding the idea of an open Internet. Worse, it's happening to the thunderous applause of some consumers, who think they're being given a gift when an ISP imposes utterly arbitrary usage caps, then graciously allows select content to bypass said caps. Make no mistake though; the act of fucking about with traffic in this fashion is an assault on net neutrality. That many people don't understand this yet (or are eager to ignore the fact when it benefits them) doesn't magically make it less true.

A few years ago, Netflix's Hastings went on a Facebook rant about how Comcast was unfairly letting its own streaming services bypass the company's usage caps. But now that Netflix is seeing benefits from zero rating, it's apparently willing to throw its principles in the toilet. Netflix may want to be careful where it treads. As some companies have discovered, zero rating isn't your friend -- and the special treatment that benefits you today may come back to bite you tomorrow.
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Filed Under: binge on, bingeon, net neutrality, streaming video, throttling, zero rating
Companies: netflix, t-mobile


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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 21 Jan 2016 @ 7:32am

    Make no mistake. This is ANTI Consumer

    You think you're getting free bandwidth for Netflix?

    Think again. You ARE paying for this. But in a sly, underhanded way. Through increased costs of Netflix.

    Why can't my ISP just charge ME for the bandwidth that I AM USING. It's not Netflix using bandwidth. It's ME who is using the bandwidth.

    And this is true whether I'm watching Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, PBS, TED, or any other of a zillion video sites.

    Just charge me, reasonably, for my network bandwidth use, and leave the structure of the internet alone. Don't start distorting the market or incentives.

    One more thing. Dear ISP. Your job is simple. Just do one thing well. Route packets on the network. That's it. You don't need to inspect traffic. You don't need to care where it goes to or comes from. Treat all destinations equally -- after all, you should do no more than routing it to/from a backbone. Just get packets from the backbone to my house, and vice versa. That's it. Do it better than your competition. You will have loyal customers.

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