YouTube Flips, Now Thinks T-Mobile's Abuse Of Net Neutrality Is Ok, Following A Few Small Changes

from the sometimes-a-duck-is-still-a-duck dept

Last year you'll recall that T-Mobile launched its "Binge On" zero rating program, which exempts the biggest video services from the company's usage caps (aka "zero rating"). Net neutrality advocates quickly complained that the practice violated net neutrality, since the very act of giving some companies an advantage automatically disadvantages some others. After T-Mobile spent some time lying about the nature of the program, the EFF came out with a detailed report noting that T-Mobile was just throttling all video files back to 1.5 Mbps, whether the content was being streamed or directly downloaded.

Net neutrality advocates like the EFF argued that the program at the very least should be opt in instead of opt out, concerns that T-mobile continues to ignore. YouTube similarly initially complained about the program and that video partners were being throttled by default. But in a matter of months, Alphabet/Google appears to have completely changed its mind, issuing a new blog post that says it's now partnering with T-Mobile to zero rate Google Play Movies and YouTube content traveling over the T-Mobile network.

According to YouTube, T-Mobile made a number of changes to Binge On that satisfied YouTube's concerns, including new "short codes" that let users more easily opt out. T-Mobile also apparently was willing to listen to YouTube's concerns about throttling partner services by default with no dialogue between companies:
"While T-Mobile has always stated that any video service can join the program at no charge, prior to our discussions, video services were not given a choice about whether their streams would be managed by T-Mobile if they did not join the program. Going forward, any video service meeting traffic-identification requirements will be able to opt-out, and T-Mobile will stop including them in the Binge On program and will no longer modify their video streams. In addition, T-Mobile will now work with video services that wish to optimize their own streams, using an average data rate limit. This allows video services to offer users an improved video experience, even at lower data rates, by taking advantage of innovations such as video compression technology, benefiting T-Mobile, their customers, and video providers.
To be clear it's good that T-Mobile is being slightly more transparent, even though it lied pretty consistently about what it was actually doing in the first place. It's also great that the company is providing better, simpler opt-out tools for consumers (dial #263# to turn Binge on off, and dial #266# to turn it on again). And it's also a major improvement that T-Mobile's letting video service providers opt out, while giving companies more control over precisely how video traffic is managed. The problem is that none of this solves the core problem with zero rating: the horrible precedent set by zero rating in the first place.

The superficial consumer lure of "free data" overshadows the fact that zero rating, no matter how much lipstick you put on it, still puts some companies at a market disadvantage. In a press release announcing YouTube's inclusion, T-Mobile crows that there's now 50 Binge On video partners. But how many video services exist on the Internet? 500? 1000? How many non-profits, educational services, startups, and independents still aren't being whitelisted by T-Mobile's systems? How many even realize they're being put at a market disadvantage to bigger companies?

By opening the door to zero rating a sliver, we've opened the door to fundamentally changing how Internet business works. That's why numerous regulators in India, Japan, The Netherlands and elsewhere have banned zero rating outright. Here in the States, the FCC, wary of hindering usage cap driven "innovation," decided to let the zero rating story play out, addressing anti-competitive behavior on a "case by case basis." But the FCC has failed to act, and that failure has not only resulted in T-mobile's Binge On (potentially bad), but companies like Verizon and Comcast now exempting their own content from caps (immeasurably worse).

Despite its faux-punk-rock consumer friendly rhetoric, T-Mobile has never been a fan of net neutrality, repeatedly coming out against both net neutrality rules and the FCC's Title II push. Google, once a net neutrality champion, has consistently weakened its position on the subject as it realized it too could benefit from a distorted playing field (especially in mobile).

Because users get "free data" doesn't mean zero rating is a good idea. Because YouTube's now happy that it has a little more control, doesn't make zero rating a good idea. Because users and companies can opt out, doesn't negate zero rating's negative impact on the Internet economy. Because all-too-many consumers, analysts and journalists don't really understand what's happening here doesn't make zero rating a good idea. Setting arbitrary usage caps and then letting some companies bypass them aggressively distorts the entire landscape of the Internet. But because so many folks still don't appear to understand this, we're down the zero rating rabbit hole. And it's not really clear if we're ever coming back.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Old Tech Guy, 17 Mar 2016 @ 1:54pm

    Unfortunately I think zero rating is here to stay. With each instance it's going to become more and more entrenched, and harder to get rid of. The biggest problem I see is that for zero rating to even make sense you need usage caps. That's where the big problem is.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 2:01pm

    If you take the red pill, you wake up and hopefully you complain enough to get the FCC to do something useful. You take the blue pill, and you stay in wonderland and see how bad Zero Rating can be.

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

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 2:30pm

    Not major

    And it's also a major improvement that T-Mobile's letting video service providers opt out


    I would say this is a minor improvement, not a major one. According to the document from T-Mobile, you have to modify your service in order to do this. Primarily, you have to provide a method for T-Mobile to track your video feed (even if you're using HTTPS!), so this also involves selling your users out by giving T-Mobile a way to track which customers are watching what.

    It's not like you can just tell T-Mobile that you don't want your service to participate and be done with it.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 2:33pm

    I will make an obvious point, zero rating favours US based companies, and disadvantages foreign companies with a small us following, and individuals who would rather run their own services. Zero rating also favours existing companies over start ups, who have another hoop to jump through, and probably need to grow a reasonable audience before they can get the ISP's to respond to their requests.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 4:31pm

    And it's not really clear if we're ever coming back.





    You can check out any time you like but you can never leave

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2016 @ 8:29pm

    "Don't be evil" my ass, Google. What the hell happened to you? You're becoming an utter mockery of what you were up until 2010.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 17 Mar 2016 @ 9:52pm

    New tagline

    Google...Evil By Default.

    You were a force for good once. The Dark Side has a strong pull.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 17 Mar 2016 @ 10:06pm

    I find your abuse of the term "Net Neutrality" to be far more egregious. You should save it for Comcast, Verizon, and at&t along with others who are "zero rating" their own services (and only their own). It probably won't be long before they're hindering the traffic of other providers (like Netflix, Youtube, etc) AGAIN.

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

  • icon
    morganwick (profile), 17 Mar 2016 @ 11:34pm

    Between this and the Charter-TWC merger about to be approved, are you sure Tom Wheeler is really any less a dingo than we originally thought?

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 5:06am

      Re:

      I'd say he generally tries to be as pro-public as he can be, the problem is there are a lot of people and companies that would really rather the FCC stay out of 'their' business, and would prefer a more 'hands-off' FCC. Only so much you can do when the deck is stacked that much against you, that he's managed what he has given that is all the more impressive.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:01am

    That didn't take much

    Before YT/Google was benefiting from T-Mobil's zero-rating:
    'Zero rating is a bad practice, and should not be encouraged or applauded.'

    After TY/Google had their content included in T-Mobile's zero-rating deal:
    'Zero rating is awesome, and completely pro-consumer.'

    Way to stick to your principles guys.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:30am

    Take cover, we are in for a mass chain explosion of troll heads. Mike is criticizing Google!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 4:58am

    T-Mobile is now promoting Binge-On...

    ....by text-spamming its own customers. Of course there's nothing whatsoever in that message about any of this: it's all puppies and kittens and sunshine.

    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
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
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.