Some organizations are crying foul about T-Mobile's Binge On offering, which lets customers stream videos on their mobile devices without having that traffic count toward their monthly data limits. Both the Internet Association and YouTube, a Google Alphabet-owned company, are suggesting that Binge On involves throttling -- deliberate slowing -- of streaming video data by T-Mobile.
Responding to those comments, a T-Mobile spokesperson told us today, "Binge On is entirely within the customer's control. They can turn Binge On off or on at will."
While mobile customers generally welcome free streaming of data, such offers -- referred to as "zero-rated" content -- have also raised concerns with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC last week sent letters to three mobile operators, including T-Mobile, asking them for information about how their free streaming services fit within the agency's goal of "maintaining a free and open Internet."
'Optimization' or 'Throttling'?
Introduced last month, T-Mobile's Binge On program gives customers with some service plans the option to stream videos from two dozen content provider-partners and not have that data count toward their monthly limits. The offering is similar to T-Mobile's Music Freedom program, which gives some customers the option of limit-free audio streaming.
According to T-Mobile, Binge On "optimizes video quality for smartphone screens. It provides a great DVD-quality experience (typically 480p or better) and also minimizes buffering and maximizes quality while using a fraction of the data." Customers who prefer to watch videos with higher resolutions can turn off Binge On, the company added.
YouTube and the Internet Association said such optimization sounds like throttling. "Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn't justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent," a YouTube spokesperson told us today.
Binge On provides unlimited video streaming from a number of services, including DirecTV, HBO Go, Hulu, Netflix and VUDU. YouTube is not currently in the program due to a technical problem that makes it hard for T-Mobile's software to detect its videos, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
Program Needs 'Clear Notice and Choice'
"T-Mobile's new 'streaming optimization' program appears to involve throttling of all video traffic, across all data plans, regardless of network congestion," said Internet Association president and CEO Michael Beckerman in a statement yesterday.
He added that his organization welcomes the FCC's inquiry, which is looking at T-Mobile's Binge On as well similar offerings by AT&T and Comcast.
"Reducing data charges for entire classes of applications can be legitimate and benefit consumers, so long as clear notice and choice is provided to service providers and consumers," Beckerman added. "However, a reasonably designed zero-rating program does not include the throttling of traffic for services or consumers that do not participate."
"Our customers [love] #BingeOn -- streaming video w/o hitting their data bucket and complete control to turn it on/off at will," T-Mobile CEO John Legere wrote in a tweet posted late yesterday in response to the Wall Street Journal article.