While T-Mobile has certainly done some good things for the wireless industry, the company's ongoing tone deafness on net neutrality isn't doing the carrier any favors. T-Mobile fought against real net neutrality rules, then, once passed anyway, got right to work trying to find creative ways around the rules using zero rating (exempting only some content from usage caps). When net neutrality advocates and scholars repeatedly pointed out T-Mobile was violating net neutrality and being a bit hypocritical ("we're edgy and love consumers but not real net neutrality!"), the company dug a deeper hole by attacking groups like the EFF.
Last week T-Mobile upped the ante with new plans that promise "unlimited" data, but are not only more expensive, they throttle tethering, throttle overall consumption at 26 GB, and throttle all video to 1.5 Mbps or 480p. Users who want HD video to actually work correctly can apparently pony up $25 more per month. Emboldended by T-Mobile and a (so far) apathetic FCC, Sprint revealed similar "unlimited" data plans of its own, which throttle all video, games and music to 1.5 Mbps, 2 Mbps, and 500 kbps respectively, unless you pony up another $25 per month.
Groups like the EFF were quick to point out that installing ISPs as middlemen who get to determine how well your services work based on how much you pay in a marginally-competitive broadband market sets a horrible precedent. If regulators allow T-Mobile to charge more money for HD video to work, what stops Comcast from charging you more if you want 4K Netflix streams to work? Or AT&T deciding it can charge you more if you want your Steam games to download at full bitrate? This is a door that, once opened, won't be easily closed. And once this practice is a standard, it will be abused.
T-Mobile, for whatever it's worth, continues to be annoyingly tone deaf about the slippery slope it's dragging the entire industry toward. However bad zero rating was, the act of throttling entire classes of traffic unless you pay your ISP more money is notably worse. Highlighting how video conferencing isn't throttled but YouTube is, The Verge tried to get T-Mobile to define "video" and "data" but came away stymied:
"I asked T-Mobile for the company’s definition of "data" and a spokesperson said "that’s not something I could give you," but suggested that the company was on "the right side of history," and that the goal was to make "unlimited sustainable for the mass market." That’s an admirable goal! But let’s not dance around the fundamentals of the situation. Net neutrality is the law of the land, and T-Mobile has aggressively pushed the boundaries of net neutrality by manipulating the traffic on its network."
But again, violating net neutrality principles isn't the same as violating net neutrality rules, and the FCC's rules were carved out with numerous exeptions that allow all manner of throttling -- provided ISPs claim it's for the health of the network. That's why T-Mobile frames this as a matter of "sustainability," even though it's really about adhering to basic dictionary definitions and not selling an "unlimited" service if you're not actually willing to offer it. For a company that markets itself as a pro-consumer alternative to traditional wireless carriers, T-Mobile seems increasingly hell bent on continuing some of the industry's worst habits.
While the United States' net neutrality rules are certainly better than nothing, we've noted a few times how they contain enough loopholes (and ignore enough hot button topics) as to be more than a little problematic. More specifically, they contain so much wiggle room they let ISPs of all stripes violate net neutrality -- just so long as they're a bit more creative about it. Verizon and Comcast were quick to highlight this when they began cap-exempting their own content, while still penalizing their competitors (without so much as a real peep from the FCC).
T-Mobile pushed these creative barriers further with Binge On, which exempts only the biggest and most popular video services from the company's usage caps (aka "zero rating"). This automatically puts thousands of smaller video providers, non-profits, educational institutions and startups at a notable market disadvantage, but by and large nobody outside of the EFF and academia seems to give much of a damn because a: ill-informed consumers are happy laboring under the illusion that they're getting something for free and b: the public (and by proxy media) is lazy and tired of debating net neutrality.
But the door being opened here leads to a monumental, potentially dangerous shift not only in how broadband service is purchased and sold, but in just how open the internet of the future is going to be.
Last week T-Mobile moved the bar even further with its new T-Mobile One plan, which provides 'unlimited' data, voice and text messaging for $70 per month. Users generally don't like the plan because it's technically more expensive than T-Mobile's previous plans. But it's also saddled with caveats, such as the fact that tethering (using your phone as a modem or hotspot) is throttled to 128 kbps, 'unlimited' technically means 26 GB, and by default all user video is throttled to 480p or 1.5 Mbps by default. Unless users pay T-Mobile a $20 monthly surcharge for HD quality.
Emboldened by T-Mobile and an utterly comatose FCC, Sprint has taken this idea even further, last week unveiling its own not-really-unlimited "Unlimited Freedom" plan with its own set of annoying caveats. Tethering is forbidden, "unlimited" actually means about 23 GB before your full connection is throttled, and by default all video is throttled to 1.5 Mbps, all games are throttled to "up to 2mbps" and all music streams are throttled at "up to 500kbps." That's a god-damned generous definition of unlimited by any measure.
But rejoice, this week Sprint came up with a "solution" for customers who, you know, would like all the services they use to actually work. The company has announced a new "Unlimited Freedom Premium" plan that raises all these arguably arbitrary limits -- if you're willing to shell out an additional $25 per month:
"This plan provides a premium quality mobile streaming experience with HD streaming videos at up to 1080p+, HD music streaming at up to 1.5 Mbps and streaming gaming at up to 8 Mbps."
Again, so we're clear: this is an ISP forcing users to pay more money if they want the services they consume to actually work properly. That's the exact sort of thing net neutrality rules were supposed to prevent. Yet here we are, dancing on a slippery slope, staring down an incredibly fractured, confusing, and potentially exploitable new paradigm for the already uncompetitive broadband sector. And frankly, nobody seems to give all that much of a shit. Either because they're bored of paying attention, or they can't see a few plays ahead on the chess match between net neutrality advocates and large ISPs.
If Sprint and T-Mobile can charge users premium to avoid video, game and music throttling, what prevents Comcast from charging users a premium if they want 4K video streaming to actually work? What stops AT&T from charging users a premium if they want their Steam games to download at full speed? The answer? Nobody, apparently, since the FCC has made it abundantly clear it believes that usage caps, zero rating, and pay-to-avoid-throttling schemes are just creative market experimentation. Except the only creativity on display here involves marketers convincing consumers to root against their own best, self interest.
As noted above, net neutrality violations are still perfectly legal here in the States, you just need a little creative showmanship when shafting the consumer. The FCC's Open Internet Order (pdf) is chock-full of "rules" that don't apply if you provide a bullshit-laden technical justification about how you're only throttling "for the health and security of the network." But congestion has always been used by the telecom industry to justify all manner of bad behavior, including unnecessary usage caps on captive customers. And regulators and the press can rarely be bothered to fact check these congestion claims (remember the exaflood?).
And while spectrum constraints on wireless networks are certainly real, that's no justification for the sea change. If your network can't actually handle unlimited data? Either raise prices transparently to pay for the necessary upgrades, or stop marketing "unlimited" services. What we don't want is the telecom sector with a generation of documented anti-competitive behavior under its belt dictating just how well services perform based on how much users are willing to pay. Because make no mistake, without vibrant, organic market competition (which is only marginally better in wireless) they will abuse the concept like an insatiable swarm of termites.
Initially, I assume both T-Mobile and Sprint will try to argue that this isn't that big of a deal, because users can always switch to metered plans that don't involve charging you more money for un-throttled services. At least until those other plans quietly disappear over a period of months, and paying a premium to actually use content the way it was intended is all the consumer has to choose from. And given that the majority of the public has no idea what a gigabyte even is, these new caveats and the horrible precedent they set will fly (and are clearly flying) right over their collective heads.
I understand that net neutrality is a convoluted and hyperbole-heavy debate that has gone on for more than a decade. As such there's clearly plenty of people happy to labor under the illusion that last June's FCC net neutrality win was the end of the conversation and they can take a nap. It's not, and they can't. We'll be fighting for an open internet for as long as ISPs keep trying creative ways to abuse the lack of last-mile broadband competition. In other words, forever.
For years now Verizon has made it clear that it no longer wants to be in the fixed-line broadband business. Despite countless billions in taxpayer subsidies and numerous unfinished obligations, the company has all-but frozen serious fiber deployments. It has also been either selling off unwanted DSL customers to smaller, ill-equipped telcos (which which almost always ends poorly for everybody except Verizon accountants and lawyers) or has quite literally tried to drive unwanted users away with both rate hikes and apathy.
Instead, Verizon executives decided to try and transform the stodgy old telco into a sexy new Millennial-focused advertising juggernaut. So far that has involved launching the company's Millennial-targeted "Go90" streaming video service, spending $4.4 billion on acquiring AOL, trying to acquire the drifting wreckage that is Yahoo, and developing controversial stealth ad tracking technology to build covert profiles of customer behavior as they wander around the Internet.
Despite the company heavily marketing Go90, zero rating the service so it doesn't count against usage caps, and even giving away data to users that try the service, it has seen extremely limited adoption among Verizon's target demographic. Verizon has refused to release subscriber numbers for the service, and the Go90 app is slowly falling down both the Apple App Store and Google Play rankings. Things have been so underwhelming, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam was forced to admit to attendees of an investor conference this week that the company may have "over-hyped" the platform:
"It did get a little bit overhyped, and we contributed to that to some extent," McAdam said in a keynote appearance at the 44th Annual J.P. Morgan Conference. McAdam explained that Verizon's strength is in building networks, not necessarily developing popular content. "It's not exactly our strong suit," McAdam conceded.
Granted everybody not at Verizon knew that the company's attempt to magically make an old telco sexy for millennials would be a hard sell, especially given Verizon's long history of trying and failing to be content innovators. The company has long tried and failed when leaning outside of its core competency, whether that's operating its own app store, running a streaming venture with Red Box, or briefly operating a news website where authors were prohibited from talking about things like surveillance or net neutrality. Phone companies, after a generation of regulatory capture and "yes men" boardroom culture -- simply aren't genetically built for real disruption and innovation outside their core competency, no matter how many executives seem to believe otherwise.
McAdam then tried to walk back his comments a little, and tried to argue that Go90 isn't a failure, it's just a vision that's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of money (which won't be spent on networks), to execute:
"We've seen enough success to make us excited about continuing to work it... "Go90 is in a good spot from our perspective, we're going to continue to pursue it. But our expectations are realistic."
As a writer I generally love telecom investor conferences for the simple fact that for whatever reason, phone and cable executives still haven't figured out that the public can hear what's being said at them. What usually happens is a telecom executive will say something uncharacteristically candid, then the company's marketing department will jump in to try and spin the comments a few weeks later. As such it shouldn't be long before Verizon unveils a new marketing barrage that spins McAdam's comments and claims Verizon's quest to become sexy in the eyes of Millennials is going better than ever.
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.
Big companies often have a way of tap dancing around the truth. It's rarely lying, because they will choose their words carefully, in a manner that clearly misleads or distorts, but is not necessarily outright lying. T-Mobile, however, appears to be flat out lying. We recently wrote about the charges from YouTube that T-Mobile was throttling YouTube videos as part of its Binge On program that zero rates video on mobile phones so it doesn't count against data caps. We noted the problems with this program when it launched, but YouTube's claims take it even further.
Again, the program supposedly "optimizes" video streams down to a lower resolution, with the promise that partner videos will not count against T-Mobile's data caps. However, YouTube pointed out that it is not a partner and its videos were being throttled, in clear violation of the clear "no throttling" rules from the FCC. T-Mobile took exception to my post about it and demanded corrections and clarifications, making a few different claims. After investigating the claims, I can say (1) that we will not be clarifying or correcting anything in the original post and (2) more importantly, it appears that T-Mobile is flat out lying in some of its claims. It's not dancing around the truth, it is claiming things that are simply untrue. This is the key claim that T-Mobile's PR person made to me:
Using the term “throttle” is misleading. We aren’t slowing down YouTube or any other site. In fact, because video is optimized for mobile devices, streaming from these sites should be just as fast, if not faster than before. A better phrase is “mobile optimized” or “lower resolution.”
This is clearly not true. While you can have a semantic debate about whether "throttling" is "optimizing," the facts with T-Mobile are pretty clear: it is NOT optimizing YouTube videos at all. It is 100% throttling them.
When Binge On first launched without YouTube as a partner, many people asked why, and T-Mobile's VP of Engineering, Grant Castle, explained that the reason was because it could not identify YouTube videos, since nearly all YouTube traffic is encrypted. Thus, T-Mobile admitted that it had no way to "optimize" YouTube videos:
T-Mobile says the problem is technical. The software it is using to deliver streaming video at lower-definition quality needs to be able to identify the incoming traffic as being video as opposed to, say, photographs or email. It can’t always do that with YouTube.
Most YouTube traffic uses a protocol called HTTPS, which T-Mobile can detect, but some portions may be using a less-used protocol called UDP that the wireless company has more difficulty reading, according to Grant Castle, vice president of engineering at T-Mobile. That means the carrier isn’t certain about the format of some streams coming from YouTube.
“YouTube is a little difficult,” said Mr. Castle.
Thus, the only thing that T-Mobile can do for many YouTube encrypted streams is not to "optimize" it at all, but to flat out throttle it down to speeds around 1.5 mbps. You can see this in the tests done by Dualsim.us and the following video.
Remember how T-Mobile in their message to me said that the "optimized" videos should show up "just as fast, if not faster than before." Yeah, that's bullshit. Watch the video below (I start the video about 5 minutes in -- the first five minutes mostly just show that the two phones are both on T-Mobile's unlimited network with similar speed connections -- at which point the video comparison is shown):
As you can see, rather than "just as fast, if not faster than before," what you see for the throttled -- not "optimized" -- video is, instead, something much slower. That's because T-Mobile appears to downgrade the data flow from ~12 Mbps down to something like 1.4 or 1.5 Mbps.
That's absolutely 100% throttling. There is no "optimization" going on because T-Mobile cannot optimize those videos, since they're encrypted.
T-Mobile is lying. Flat out lying.
And... in a bit of perfect timing, just as I was completing this post, I see that EFF has published the results of its own technical tests of BingeOn, which also confirm that there is no "optimization" here -- and got T-Mobile to admit it was lying. It's purely throttling:
Our last finding is that T-Mobile’s video “optimization” doesn’t actually alter or enhance the video stream for delivery to a mobile device over a mobile network in any way. This means T-Mobile’s “optimization” consists entirely of throttling the video stream’s throughput down to 1.5Mbps. If the video is more than 480p and the server sending the video doesn’t have a way to reduce or adapt the bitrate of the video as it’s being streamed, the result is stuttering and uneven streaming—exactly the opposite of the experience T-Mobile claims their “optimization” will have.
Given the difference between what T-Mobile implies they do and what we found, we contacted them to get clarification. They confirmed that they don’t do any actual optimization of video streams other than reducing the bandwidth allocated to them (and relying on the provider to notice, and adapt the bitrate accordingly).
In fact, the EFF study compared a hash of the download to a version that was on the server and found the files were identical (i.e., no "optimization" -- just purely throttling). Again, this is the exact opposite of what T-Mobile's PR person told me in demanding a correction. T-Mobile is lying.
EFF also discovered that T-Mobile's earlier statement that it can't detect encrypted video is also misleading, as the company now claims it can:
The second major finding in our tests is that T-Mobile is throttling video downloads even when the filename and HTTP headers (specifically the Content-Type) indicate the file is not a video file. We asked T-Mobile if this means they are looking deeper than TCP and HTTP headers, and identifying video streams by inspecting the content of their customers’ communications, and they told us that they have solutions to detect video-specific protocols/patterns that do not involve the examination of actual content.
Finally, EFF realized that even if you're just downloading the video (i.e., not streaming, but downloading for later viewing), you STILL get throttled:
The first result of our test confirms that when Binge On is enabled, T-Mobile throttles all HTML5 video streams to around 1.5Mps, even when the phone is capable of downloading at higher speeds, and regardless of whether or not the video provider enrolled in Binge On. This is the case whether the video is being streamed or being downloaded—which means that T-Mobile is artificially reducing the download speeds of customers with Binge On enabled, even if they’re downloading the video to watch later. It also means that videos are being throttled even if they’re being watched or downloaded to another device via a tethered connection.
A separate claim in the email from T-Mobile is more of the "tap dancing around the truth" variety. And it's the claim that T-Mobile made it clear from the beginning that it would be doing this to non-partner videos as well. Here's what the T-Mobile rep said in the email to me:
This is how Binge On has always worked. We said it from the stage, in press materials, on the web, and in customer notifications last month, and media covered it last month, as well.
This is extremely misleading. Nearly everyone I've spoken to among people who follow these issues had no idea that the "throttling" (not optimization) applied to non-partner videos. I, as a T-Mobile customer, also never received any such notice (though the PR person then forwarded me the "notification" email, so I guess technically I have now received it). Either way, I went back to look at the press release and T-Mobile's own page about Binge-On to see about how clearly the company really revealed that it would also be throttling non-partner video. And the company was not at all clear about it.
In the press release (not surprisingly), T-Mobile focuses on all the Binge On partners. To realize that it's also throttling other videos you have to carefully parse some confusing text buried in the 8th paragraph of the press release, which most people won't even recognize. Here are paragraphs four through eight -- with the relevant mention bolded (without that, you might miss it):
With Binge On, video now streams free for viewers and subscribers of Crackle, Encore, ESPN, Fox Sports, Fox Sports Go, HBO Now, HBO Go, Hulu, MLB, Movieplex, NBC Sports, Netflix, Sling TV, Sling Box, SHOWTIME, STARZ, T-Mobile TV, Univision Deportes, Ustream, Vessel, Vevo, VUDU—with more streaming services on the way—without ever touching their 4G LTE data on Simple Choice plans with extra data. T-Mobile is also including Verizon’s Go90 and AT&T’s DirecTV streaming services in Binge On, so even the Duopoly’s video services stream without fear of overages.
Binge On is open to any streaming video provider who meets the technical requirements, which are available online at www.t-mobile.com/bingeon. And it’s completely free for video streaming providers to join.
“With Binge On, no one pays—not the customers, not the video streaming services—and everyone wins,” said Legere.
Powered by new technology built in to T-Mobile’s network, Binge On optimizes video for mobile screens, minimizing data consumption while still delivering DVD or better quality (e.g. 480p or better). That means more reliable streaming for services that stream free with Binge On, and for almost all other video, it means T-Mobile Simple Choice customers can watch up to three times more video from their data plan. And, as always, T-Mobile has put customers in total control with a switch to activate or deactivate Binge On for each line in their My T-Mobile account. Binge On is all about customer choice.
So basically all of the press release is talking about how Binge On is about "free" video from partners, and then in the second half of a sentence, buried in the middle of a paragraph (eight paragraphs into the press release) is a tidbit about how "for all other videos" the bandwidth is downgraded (what T-Mobile falsely calls "optimized"). That is the farthest thing from being clear about what is happening.
Similarly, on the website for Binge On itself, this is far from clear. Most of the page goes on and on and on about how "you can stream all you want for FREE without using your data." The clear implication is that video streaming doesn't count against a datacap. Lower down it has the following:
What basically no one is going to realize is that the "Watch 3X more video" claim on the right is talking about non-partner video. They don't actually say that. In fact, given how so much of the focus is on how the video doesn't count against the data cap at all, the whole "3x more video" bit is actually kind of confusing, because they're both saying you can watch "as much video as you want" on the left, and then on the right, saying you can now watch 3x as much video. They are not being clear at all about this.
It's only if you go all the way to the bottom of the page and click to expand the first "question" about Binge On that it finally explains what this means:
I mean, it's really, really buried. Here's a screenshot of the whole page, showing you where this information is buried (and, remember, this is showing it to you after I've clicked the little "+" button to show more). Most people will miss it entirely:
So, yeah: T-Mobile is flat out lying in claiming that it "optimizes" YouTube, and it's being ridiculously misleading in arguing that it was abundantly clear about how Binge On would impact non-partner videos.
Now, the big question: will the FCC actually do anything about this?
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.
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.
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.
As rumored, T-Mobile has unveiled its latest attempt to kick the nation's wireless duopoly in the shins: exempting video services from the company's wireless broadband usage caps. According to the company's latest press release, T-Mobile customers will soon be able to stream video from 24 participating partners without it counting against user usage allotments. The initial list of participating companies includes most of the usual suspects, with T-Mobile stating any notable omissions (like YouTube and Amazon Prime Streaming) will be added in time.
It's an obvious extension of the company's existing Music Freedom effort, which makes select music services cap exempt. That effort caused a bit of a net neutrality kerfuffle at launch, given that initially only the most popular music services (dictated by T-Mobile customer votes) were cap exempt. As is the problem with most zero rating programs, that immediately creates an unlevel playing field for smaller nonprofits and independents that aren't big enough to get onto T-Mobile's radar and be whitelisted.
But with Binge On, T-Mobile was obviously more prepared for the inevitable net neutrality criticism that somehow caught the company off guard last time.
This is "not a net neutrality problem,” T-Mobile US CEO John Legere was quick to proclaim during the announcement. "It’s free, the providers don’t pay, the customers don't pay. Most importantly...you can shut it off, it’s complete customer choice," he added. Users who enable the service enjoy "optimized" 480p video streams that don't count against their caps. Turn it off, and users will view standard, higher-resolution streams that will erode their usage allotments. Legere also promised that any company "can meet our technical criteria" (said criteria hasn't yet been specified) can participate.
As far as zero rated programs go, it's not an apparently awful implementation, and it's going to appeal to a lot of customers. The problem continues to be precedent. The simple act of accepting wireless carriers as middlemen fit to determine what should or shouldn't be allowed past arbitrary usage restrictions paves the way for a very uncertain future, as the Verge rather hysterically worries:
"Binge On is bad because it gives T-Mobile too much power. It’s really that simple. And yes, it’s bad for net neutrality. If net neutrality has a core idea, it’s that regular people ought to be in charge of the internet — especially since the internet is mostly just people. That means companies like T-Mobile shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, even if customers appear to be winning in the short term. And there are definitely going to be losers. Legere insists that anybody who wants to be a part of Binge On can be, as long as they meet T-Mobile’s technical specifications. It’s not clear what those specifications are yet, though Legere used words like "optimized video" and "DVD quality or better." But that just sounds a lot like another type of managed network: cable television."
"T-Mobile wants to suggest it’s saving customers by exempting video from its data caps. But we have to remember that T-Mobile imposed these caps in the first place. It’s a cheap sales trick: First you fabricate a problem for customers; then you make that problem go away and act like you’ve done them a huge favor."
And not everybody is as consumer-friendly and disruptive as T-Mobile. Allowing T-Mobile to inject itself into the data stream in this fashion encourages other wireless carriers to do so, and you can be damn certain that AT&T and Verizon's vision of zero rating will be notably more ham-fisted and problematic. Even if you admire T-Mobile's particular implementation of zero rating, small independents still have to reach out for T-Mobile's permission to be placed on the same, level playing field as their larger counterparts. Many may not even realize they're in such a position.
You'll probably see countless reports suggesting that T-Mobile's move is sure to "invite scrutiny by the FCC," but that's highly unlikely. T-Mobile's done a fantastic job of selling a potentially problematic precedent as consumer empowerment. Meanwhile, the FCC has made it abundantly clear it sees usage caps and zero rating as creative pricing experimentation, in the process opening the door wide to a lopsided vision of the Internet many will naively be cheering for.
Sprint was the only one of the big four carriers to clearly support Title II and full net neutrality rules, but since the rules' passage the company's behavior has been a little bit strange. Last week, Sprint announced a new "All In" promotion that offers new users unlimited text, voice and data for $60 a month, plus a $20 device lease fee. The plan was supposed to be the company's game changing assault on current industry darling T-Mobile, but Sprint curiously included a small caveat in the fine print of the program; absolutely all video going over the Sprint network would be throttled to 600 kbps regardless of network congestion:
"To improve data experience for the majority of users, throughput may be limited, varied or reduced on the network. Streaming video speeds will be limited to 600Kbps at all times, which may impact quality. Sprint may terminate service if off-network roaming usage in a month exceeds: (1) 800 min. or a majority of min.; or (2) 100MB or a majority of KB."
Users quickly made it clear that they weren't interested in an "unlimited" data plan with such limits, forcing Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure -- who claimed he was asleep in Tokyo during all the ruckus -- to reverse course and remove the 600 kbps limit. This flub came after the company's CEO had been making it perfectly clear Sprint is planning to kill unlimited data entirely, one of the few things people actually like about Sprint. In short, Sprint's trying very hard lately to act like the more-disruptive T-Mobile, but as the uncool "dad jeans" of the wireless sector, isn't quite sure how to go about it.
With the company's promo arriving with a thud, Sprint apparently tried to mimic T-Mobile in another way: mirror the trash-talking of T-Mobile's brash CEO John Legere. Sprint's Claure quickly decided the best course of action would be to head to Twitter and insist that T-Mobile's recent "uncarrier" efforts (specifically its handset early-upgrade program) were little more than finely crafted bullshit:
@JohnLegere I am so tired of your Uncarrier bullshit when you are worse than the other two carriers together. Your cheap misleading lease
The problem is that T-Mobile's amusing uncarrier efforts (which have included eliminating device subsidies, hidden fees, and other industry pain points) have been working. The magenta-hued carrier has been adding more new subscribers per quarter than any other U.S. operator, feeding a desperate consumer desire for better deals and less fine print. Sprint, meanwhile, has labored in last place in most network performance and customer satisfaction studies. As such, offering up some bullshit, then deriding other companies for engaging in bullshit, probably isn't the best way to reverse those lagging fortunes.
from the keeping-the-peace-at-a-ratio-of-nine-to-one dept
How many law enforcement officers does it take to subdue one intoxicated man? In Bakersfield, CA, it takes nine: seven sheriff's deputies, two CHP officers and a police dog. It also appears that being publicly intoxicated and resisting arrest in Bakersfield is punishable by immediate death in the same county.
At this point, consider everything regarding the beating to be "alleged." After all, we don't have any conclusive evidence of what happened, despite two people filming it (and a handful of eyewitnesses) because law enforcement made sure every recording of the event (except one -- more on that in a bit) was seized as "evidence."
Also, keep in mind that David Silva, the thirty-three year old father of four who was allegedly beaten to death by nine law enforcement officers, was only allegedly intoxicated and violent. Evidence of his crime(s) disappeared along with the footage of multiple cops swinging batons. (I suppose this will be verified when the autopsy results are made public, presumably featuring a full toxicology report.)
Here's an eyewitness account of the beating:
At about midnight, Ruben Ceballos, 19,was awakened by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.
"When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head," Ceballos said.
Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him, Ceballos said.
After several minutes, Ceballos said, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive.
The phones used to record the incident were seized by law enforcement as "evidence." As it's highly doubtful the sheriff's department is looking into charging a dead man with a crime, the only "investigation" possible would be a look into the actions of the officers at the scene. This also means the only criminal activity captured on film would be the officers'. Turning over the only copy of evidence to the perpetrators is generally considered to be a terrible idea. But when you've just witnessed nine law enforcement officers beat a man into unconsciousness (and eventual death), your normal citizen is probably going to think twice before telling another officer, "No."
But the witnesses held out as long as they could. The incident happened around midnight. The two witnesses who had recorded the event (a male whose name hasn't been released and Maria Melendez) were called back to their apartment by the sheriff's department. This was at 3 AM. At that point, the officers demanded they turn over their cell phones. They refused to do so without being served a warrant. The officers then detained them in the apartment, telling them they couldn't leave without turning over their phones.
Three hours later, the male turned over his phone, stating he needed to be to work in a couple of hours. The officers detained Melendez for nearly nine hours. The search warrant finally arrived around noon and Melendez relinquished her phone. The two witnesses were told they could pick up their phones the next day. When the unnamed male went to recover his, he found the timeframe had now changed to "months, even years" before he could get his phone back.
Two bits of evidence have made their way into the public, unimpeded by sheriff's deputies with endless amounts of time to waste and rights to violate. The first is a 911 call reporting the beating made by Salinas Quair, Melendez's daughter. This call alerted law enforcement to the fact that the (alleged) beating had been recorded, triggering the intimidating roundup (and detainment) of these witnesses.
There's a man laying on the floor and your police officers beat the [explicit] out of him and killed him," said the woman. "I have it all on video camera."
The woman continued:
"I am sitting here on the corner of Flower and Palm right now and you have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight Sheriffs. The guy was laying on the floor and eight Sheriff's ran up and started beating him up with sticks. The man is dead laying right here, right now."
The grainy black and white video appears to show the alleged victim, David Silva, 33, lying on the ground. Another person is then seen walking up to Silva and attempting to pick him up. Both men appear to scuffle, and after a few minutes, Silva is seen being struck with an object.
Other cars are seen arriving at the scene with lights flashing on top of them. Several other men are then seen in the video, also striking Silva more than a dozen times with objects. Silva is then seen being taken into custody.
The office did identify the officers involved in the arrest as Sgt. Douglas Sword and deputies Ryan Greer, Tanner Miller, Jeffrey Kelly, Luis Almanza, Brian Brock and David Stephens.
That's seven from the sheriff's department. The names of the two CHP officers have not been released. That's nine altogether, plus a police dog.
One has to wonder, though, how the officers were "forced" to use their batons. Perhaps some force was needed to subdue Silva, but with nine officers responding (and swinging), you'd think the tide would have turned in law enforcement's favor long before Silva lost consciousness. And how much "resistance" did Silva actually offer, considering the first officer on the scene was responding to a call from Kern Medical Center security who reported Silva as "passed out?"
End result: a man loses his life for being intoxicated. Nine officers beat Silva senseless take Silva "into custody," which in this case is synonymous with "attempt CPR and call an ambulance." Ironically, Silva was only a block away from Kern Medical Center, not that it did him any good.
Not content to limit its wrongdoing to a beating, deputies then barge into a home without a warrant and detain two citizens against their will, one of them for nearly nine hours, until the warrant they should have needed just to get in the door at 3 AM finally shows up at noon.
Now, all of the inarguable evidence is in the hands of the same people who would prefer it just went away. It will be tough for them to get away with simply deleting the recordings, but stranger things have happened to evidence that implicates law enforcement officers but has ended up in the possession of law enforcement. The recording can be termed "unrecoverable" or have inexplicably large gaps in the footage. Or the phone may be damaged during "processing." Sometimes, the evidence just vanishes conveniently and a lengthy internal investigation will unwind at a glacial pace until everyone loses interest.
The people who witnessed this beating have nowhere to go. They can't trust the police and they've seen those who recorded the event quarantined in their home until they complied with the officers' requests to turn over their phones. If not for the constitutional violations committed by "law enforcement," the footage would already be publicly displayed. The longer the Sheriff's office delays in releasing this footage, the worse it appears. If this went down as described, there's no way law enforcement can hope to salvage some respect by attempting to downplay or justify the actions of these officers.
Even if Silva was putting up the fight of his life, he was intoxicated and was outnumbered 9-to-1. Any reasonable person would expect a suspect to be subdued before it got to the point where it became life-threatening. But any hopes of a reasonable outcome were discarded the moment that first two-handed swing connected.