T-Mobile Video Throttling Dispute Heats Up


The head of T-Mobile has apologized for going on a profanity-laden rant against the Electronic Frontier Foundation. But John Legere continues to dispute the claim from the EFF that his company’s “Binge On” data program follows the ethos of net neutrality.

The dispute follows T-Mobile launching a plan which excluded selected video apps from data caps. The video apps in question would have content downgraded to a 480p resolution but wouldn’t count towards cellular data use. T-Mobile said any video app could be added to the program as long as the developers requested it and agreed to include some specific coding.

The program had already attracted the attention of the Federal Communications Commission which has asked T-Mobile for more details. It’s looking into the possibility that the program, as described, might breach net neutrality by effectively making any content not in the program be more expensive to consume in comparison to the “free” content.

The EFF has since analyzed data sent over T-Mobile and claims that in fact there’s no special treatment for the content covered by BingeOn. Instead, it says its analysis shows T-Mobile is simply throttling all video content regardless of source. Both streaming and downloading video appeared to be restricted to 1.5Mbps, even if the data plan and connection allowed for a faster speed. Throttling video content — and video content only — seems a pretty fundamental breach of the net neutrality principle.

That prompted Legere to attack the EFF in both tweets and a YouTube video. Ironically, although the video was at a 1080 resolution, when viewed over T-Mobile the speed restriction meant YouTube — which is not part of the BingeOn program — automatically cut it down to 480, somewhat proving the EFF’s point.

Legere has now apologized for causing offense and stressed his support for the EFF and its general work to promote the interests of consumers. He acknowledged that T-Mobile is indeed slowing down all video content (using the term “optimizing”) but noted customers can switch off Binge On in their account settings, which will return all video content to its maximum available speed.

The two sides still dispute the net neutrality point, though it’s now more of a semantic point. Legere insists that there’s no problem because customers can choose to have all data treated equally. The EFF still has a gripe, arguing that this should be the default position, with customers having to actively select the option to have video content slowed.

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