T-Mobile's Binge On throttling all video to 1.5Mbps, regardless of source, EFF says

in iPhone edited January 2016
For Binge On users, T-Mobile is indeed throttling all video -- despite the carrier's statements to the contrary, according to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

In a series of tests over LTE, trying to stream or download a privately-hosted video via HTTP resulted in bandwidth being capped at 1.5 megabits per second, the EFF noted. This applied even when the video's filename and HTTP response headers were changed to disguise it as a non-video file.

Switching to HTTPS to block T-Mobile from monitoring traffic resulted in regular speeds, in this case over 3 to 5 megabits per second. The gap was much smaller when downloading a true non-video file.

T-Mobile isn't actually optimizing video, but is instead counting on services' automatic downgrading for low bandwidth to ensure smooth streaming, the EFF said. If a video is over 480p resolution and can't be downgraded, it reportedly stutters or otherwise performs badly.

Another concern was that T-Mobile is examining files beyond their TCP and HTTP headers, but in response the carrier said that it has techniques to detect video protocols and patterns without reading their content.

In any case the EFF argued that throttling video across the board constitutes a violation of net neutrality, putting aside issues of whether zero-rated offerings like Binge On should be allowed at all.

When active on a customer's account, Binge On is nominally only supposed to downgrade video from the service's official partners, such as Netflix and HBO, with that content ignoring any data caps. YouTube complained that its videos were being throttled, even though it isn't a partner and its content isn't exempt from caps.

T-Mobile reacted by issuing a statement, claiming that it wasnt throttling YouTube or any other site.

"In fact, because video is optimized for mobile devices, streaming from these sites should be just as fast, if not faster than before. A better phrase is 'mobile optimized' or a less flattering 'downgraded' is also accurate," a representative said.

The problem with YouTube was blamed on a flaw in software used to flag videos exempt from data caps, which the two companies are allegedly trying to fix.


  • Reply 1 of 6
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    I can't imagine that people use their cellular data to stream lots of video. I'm not saying you shouldn't be able to, I just can't imagine that people actually do it. Certainly not often enough to warrant this Binge On scheme.

    Something tells me it is not in response to consumer demand, and instead an attempt to disguise throttling of select services to ease the network.
  • Reply 2 of 6
    I do not mind the 1.5 quality. Now if the video was sputtery  (stop and go) then it would frustrate me as far as soaking in the content. But the fact that I can keep tabs on the game on espn.... I am fine. 
  • Reply 3 of 6
    kpluckkpluck Posts: 500member
    It is an optional service that can be turned off. However, I really wish T-Mobile would have made it opt-in instead of opt-out.

  • Reply 4 of 6
    This is so class-action lawsuit ready to happen.
  • Reply 5 of 6
    My T-Mobile account has Binge On as opt-in, but perhaps that is because I have an existing account? Do new accounts have to specifically turn it off/opt out?

    As for class action lawsuits, I seriously doubt it. There are disclaimers and explanations all over T-Mobile's site (even if some of it is tiny and legalistic). It's pretty clear what you will get. Anyone who thinks they are going to get full quality unlimited video in this day and age is either not reading carefully or dreaming. This video quality should be fine for a smaller screen. Those who need full quality have to use up their bandwidth allowance is all. (I realize some people hook their phones to TVs, but they will just have to use their GB limits for now.)

    I also don't see it as a violation of Net Neutrality as long as the consumer has the choice of whether to turn it on or off. Being able to fine tune and choose for each specific service might be better, but it could also be confusing for customers and/or billing, at least at this point.

    FWIW, I haven't turned on Binge On because I don't watch enough video via cellular to hit any of my limits. And a disclaimer: so far I love my T-Mobile for the past year or so. Connections are good, data speeds are good in my area (OKC, OK) is notorious for bad connectivity for many providers. And, I love the free bandwidth for music and now for video, even if the video gets a bit of a decrease in order to not totally chew up all the network. (My phone is my radio for my car and 95% of the streams I listen to don't hit my GB limits.)
    edited January 2016
  • Reply 6 of 6
    focherfocher Posts: 677member
    kpluck said:
    It is an optional service that can be turned off. However, I really wish T-Mobile would have made it opt-in instead of opt-out.

    Agree and agree. It's not what I think is the right way to offer the option, but it's entirely controllable as the customer so not the most egregious problem with mobile operators. 
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