T-Mobile recently rolled out a binge-friendly program called “BingeOn” that lets many of its customers stream video from popular services like Netflix and HBO without it counting toward their data cap.
But one byproduct of this program is that T-Mobile delivers videos at low-quality 480p resolution by default. This is true even for services that aren’t part of the program, according to YouTube, who told The Wall Street Journal that its videos were being degraded.
“Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent,” a YouTube spokesman told the Journal.
T-Mobile doesn’t think this is an accurate characterization.
“Using the term ‘throttle’ is misleading,” a representative told DSL Reports in an e-mail. “We aren’t slowing down 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.”
One argument that T-Mobile CEO John Legere uses against critics and net neutrality activists is that customers can turn off BingeOn at any time, writing in a blog post that “With Binge On, customers have total control to turn the service off or on at will. With our approach, customers win, our partners win, we win.”
The fight over the wording isn’t just a PR battle. The difference between “throttling” and “optimizing” could have implications for T-Mobile with the FCC, which specifically prohibits “throttling” because it cuts against net neutrality.
Currently the FCC is reviewing T-Mobile’s push to allow some services — for now video and audio streaming ones — to not count toward data caps. The FCC so far has no issued any statements about whether this type of program is in violation of its new net neutrality rules against prioritization, but they have asked T-Mobile for more information on the programs, according to The Verge.
If this type of practice is dubbed as throttling, as YouTube characterizes it, this could be bad news for T-Mobile, which would have to rethink one of its key new initiatives.