T-Mobile’s Binge On feature sells video throttling as ‘optimisation’
Tue 5 Jan 2016
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has called on the FCC to bring T-Mobile to account after confirming that the mobile provider is throttling all high-definition video streams down to DVD quality, in possible breach of current regulations about net neutrality.
In a new post, EFF staffer Jeremy Gillula confirms the findings of Slate’s Marvin Ammori – that T-Mobile’s Binge On feature, which allows customers to stream video from select providers such as Netflix without contributing to data caps, is actually the public face of a throttling policy which T-Mobile imposes upon all streaming video, irregardless of the source.
The EFF’s tests found that all video streams, including HTML5 video, are throttled down to 1.5Mps for customers who have Binge On activated. The video downgrade is equivalent to the 480p video standard associated with DVD viewing. T-Mobile confirmed to the EFF that the re-rezzing of video streams is not any innovative technology on their part, but simply a bandwidth reduction which relies on the streaming source to recognise the bottleneck and consequently serve up lower-resolution video.
Effectively T-Mobile customers with Binge On enabled are therefore trading video quality for quantity, since providers such as Netflix, HBO Now, Sling and Hulu are among the major names who have signed up for zero-rating video serving. It’s worth noting that the deal is advantageous also for Netflix-level video providers, since it cuts their provision bills by a significant margin. However any provider can sign up to be rated for zero data-capped streaming with T-Mobile.
The FCC’s Open Internet Order forbids ISPs from degrading internet content provision except for the purpose of ‘reasonable network management’. Gillula argues that since throttling takes place irrespective of congestion, the network management clause can not be applied to T-Mobile’s initiative. Presumably T-Mobile considers the policy a broader act of network management in the context of network demand that threatens to exceed capacity within 18 months unless customers can be persuaded to trade full-speed, hi-res network access for some kind of compromise. Gillula contends that the Federal Communications Commission should take T-Mobile to task, arguing that the Binge On throttling represents ‘a significant consumer harm that runs afoul of well-established open internet principles.’