T-Mobile says its customers will be able to stream video without it counting towards data caps. But the move has some catches and has raised some questions about net neutrality.
Under the plan, known as Binge On, data from 24 apps will not count towards the data cap for anyone currently on a 3GB a month plan or higher. The apps include Netflix, Hulu and HBO Now.
One catch is that the content will be downgraded to a 480p resolution, which the company argues is not a real issue for small screens. It seems to be counting on the idea that letting users stream as much 480p content as they like will wind up using less data in total than if they are under a cap but streaming 1080p video. That might be a good bet seeing as battery life is still going to limit most people’s streaming.
According to T-Mobile, it isn’t intentionally discriminating against the apps and services that aren’t covered right now (including YouTube and Amazon Prime), nor does it have any financial arrangement with those who are.
However, app developers do actively have to sign up to the scheme and include particular coding which signals to T-Mobile that the relevant content is indeed a video. It will publish the technical requirements online and says it will accept any service which meets them.
At the same time, T-Mobile is doubling the data limits on most of its capped plans, though some are getting a $5 a month hike as well. Its “unlimited data” plan is going up from $80 to $95.
The net neutrality issue has already raised its head, with some debate about whether this is a situation where T-Mobile gets a pass because its a move that benefits customers. It’s arguably a case of looking at the letter against the spirit of net neutrality.
It certainly doesn’t breach any existing legal regulations and it doesn’t violate the principle if you’re looking at the way T-Mobile treats the data in terms of delivery or speed. However, it does mean that data not covered by the program (both video and other data) effectively costs more to receive than data which is.