T-Mobile’s video offering likely illegal, says influential advocate

T-Mobile’s video offering likely illegal, says influential advocate
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A new report by an influential Stanford law professor concluded that T-Mobile’s new video offering is likely “illegal” under net neutrality rules.

Professor Barbara van Schewick submitted a 51-page report to the Federal Communications Commission on Friday that accused the carrier's program, named Binge On, of violating the FCC’s general conduct rule that bars Internet service providers from unreasonably interfering with customers’ Internet choices. 

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“Binge On harms competition, innovation, and free speech — all harms that the general conduct rule is meant to prevent. Taken all together, it is likely that Binge On violates the general conduct rule and is therefore illegal,” the report says. 

Van Schewick is a regular and influential face at the FCC. The Hill previously reported she made some of the most visits of any individual to the FCC about net neutrality when the rules were being drafted.

The report adds to growing criticism from public interest groups about the T-Mobile program, which exempts certain video from customers' monthly data caps but also reduces the download speeds of all video. 

A series of charges have already been leveled against the wireless carrier, including that it is throttling video speeds in violation of separate bright-line rules from the FCC. And the FCC is already looking into the T-Mobile offering and similar offerings from others. 

Friday’s report focuses on the business model of exempting certain video from data caps, a process known as zero-rating. 

T-Mobile has pushed back hard on allegations that it is violating net neutrality rules, and has produced statistics indicating customers like it. The program allows video providers such as Netflix or Amazon to sign up with T-Mobile. In exchange, customers would be able to watch video from those providers without it counting against their data caps. 

T-Mobile says the offering complies with net neutrality because it is free and open to all video providers. The company also points out that customers can turn it off if they don’t like it. The company just recently made it easier for people to turn off Binge On.

The report, however, said that the technical specifications required for video providers to sign up “categorically exclude” some providers who use different technology, such as YouTube. The report brought up other concerns, like T-Mobile’s favoring of commercial entertainment over other forms of content. 

According to the report, the program even violates net neutrality rules and limits customer choice by favoring video streaming over other forms of Internet use such as video chat, playing video games, or downloading large documents.  

The report offers up a number of potential solutions, like offering up Binge On level speeds — 1.5 Mbps — for all forms of content after customers hit their data cap. 

T-Mobile does not make customers pay when they exceed their monthly data allowance; instead, it severely throttles speeds to a point where customers cannot watch video. Friday’s report recommends that once costumers exceed their monthly data cap, they be bumped into a Binge On-style program that lets them watch reduced quality video and access other low-bandwidth content.