T-Mobile announced a new program allowing its users on 3GB or greater cellular data plans to stream several video services without counting on the user’s data cap. Accepting this benefit throttles all web video to 480p, including on non-partner sites like YouTube, even though non-partner videos will still count against your allotment.
Net neutrality is the law that requires all web traffic be delivered and treated equally by internet service providers. In theory, no company can pay Comcast to have their service arrive faster than their competitors, and Comcast can’t force a site to pay up to be accessible, or decide what should be blocked outright. If a user gets 40Mbps internet, they should receive everything at the same 40Mbps, and one unit of data from any service should be counted the same on data caps. Without net neutrality, Comcast, often the only ISP in a neighborhood, could give any level of unfair advantage to their own streaming service over competitors, making it impractical and expensive to avoid the monopoly. CEO John Legere has varied in his position on net neutrality, advertising his beliefs as “pro-consumer” to rally support for T-Mobile’s best interest, whether that means being for or against the FCC at any given moment.
The new program, Binge On, is a clear followup from last year’s Music Freedom, which applies to some music services. T-Mobile notably does not receive any money from their music and video streaming partners that are allotted unlimited data, making it a less typical abuse. The FCC chose not to prosecute T-Mobile for this crime because they didn’t see any obvious gain for T-Mobile, or malicious intent. This time, however, T-Mobile insists it is of no violation due to allowing any and all video services to opt-in. YouTube is notably absent from the launch lineup of 24 sites, and has protested T-Mobile’s throttling. A T-Mobile spokesperson prefers the loaded term “mobile optimized,” but accepts that, “‘downgraded’ is also accurate,” in describing their treatment of non-partner online video.
Controlled glimpses at bandwidth’s reality
Monthly data caps have truly no real-life relation, as Comcast engineers have admitted. They’re purely a business and profit-based policy. Consuming data at a constant rate for 16 hours a day to fill a typical 5GB monthly plan would mean about 22Kbps of usage. An LTE cell tower can handle up to 128 users downloading at 100Mbps at any given time, half a million times greater usage. The issue for T-Mobile is not the amount of data its customers are using, but the pace and timing. This is why Binge On is truly better for them than it is the customer; video is typically the highest constant bitrate consumers use, and by throttling it to 480p (just 2.5Mbps on YouTube), they buy time on upgrading and expanding infrastructure to meet peak congestion.
Binge On appears to be yet another perk that’s spawned Apple and Microsoft-levels of fanboyism, following the great leader John Legere. Legere became famous following his use of the words “bullshit” and “fuckers” to refer to AT&T and Verizon at T-Mobile’s conferences, the same technique that his Twitter foe Trump has succeeded with to make himself seem like a relatable, frank fighter against a vilified enemy. Binge On was announced the same day the price of T-Mobile’s “unlimited” 23GB (after that it’s unusable at 150Kbps during peak hours) data plan increased by $15 a month. As a “thanksgiving present,” T-Mobile gave users 3 months of unlimited data. Disabling Binge On cancels it.
A certain level of network management to minimize costs is reasonable, if transparent. Some fans of the company might equate Binge-On with this, but we must recognize that Deutsche Telekom is a for-profit multinational, and desires the higher profit margins that may come from not needing more infrastructure, rather than passing the savings to the public. Public electric utilities, with a similar constant supply that’s either used or not, typically charge less for power during low use times, incentivizing spread out usage, like we see with programable electric car chargers. T-Mobile may be smaller than AT&T, and their programs at face value seem less evil than Comcast’s data cap rollout to 30 previously unlimited markets or Facebook’s “non-profit” to bring Facebook to the underdeveloped world, but anti-neutrality policies should never be commended.