TMO, EFF, and Net Neutrality
I’ve been watching T-Mobile’s new Binge-On (BO) offering for a few weeks now as it gains more and more headlines. Today TMO CEO John Legere went on a rant directed at the Electronic Freedom Foundation (of which I am a member) and their recent analysis of the service.
TMO and Legere say that Binge-On is a feature aimed at providing their customers with a better video experience, and saving them money by not charging data fees for video from Binge-On partners such as Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. This sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? Free is good.
There are two issues with this. The first is that TMO is slowing down ALL video streams to mobile devices, not just streams from non-BO partners. Every HTML5 video stream is slowed to 1.5Mbps. Some sources are saying that HD video is being converted to 480p, but I haven’t seen a definitive answer to this question. Frankly, reducing bandwidth to mobile devices makes a lot of sense, because on those devices a reduced-resolution image looks just fine. If you are watching a video on a 5-inch screen, you really don’t need to see that stream in high-bandwidth, high-resolution. You can opt out of Binge-On, and that’s really what has folks in a dither…it’s turned on by default. TMO counters by pointing out that customers were inadvertently burning through their data plan by watching unnecessarily high bandwidth video.
The second, and larger issue, is net neutrality. In 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a ruling that basically said that data is data…it’s illegal to differentiate among and treat differently email versus text versus video versus web browsing. TMO’s Binge-On is in direct violation of this, treating video differently than other network traffic. Worse, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) showed that TMO slowed down video traffic even when the file was not explicitly identified as video (with a .mpg file extension, for example). That means that TMO is peering inside the data to see what it is…a technique called deep packet inspection. If TMO is inspecting packets, what else are they planning on doing? And who are they sharing that information with?
I’m of two minds on this issue. I’m a proponent of net neutrality, and I find it offensive that TMO is treating different kinds of data traffic in different ways. Net neutrality was hard-fought and extremely important in protecting the free exchange of ideas on the internet. As a consumer, though (and I use TMO on a tablet for audio streaming), how can I argue against free? I specifically bought a TMO tablet so that I could stream music at no charge through their Music Freedom program.
I’ve asked the EFF about Music Freedom and if its the same technique as Binge-On (deep packet inspection). No one complained about MF when it was launched a year ago. I have to think that TMO’s competitors are lining up their lawyers to take this one to the mat. I think that my position has to be with net neutrality…it is so much more important than a bunch of TMO subscribers getting free video.