Net Neutrality

Does T-Mobile's Binge On Service Violate Net Neutrality? Probably, Which Is All You Need To Know About Net Neutrality.

Zero-rated plans, which exempt users from data caps, are in cross-hairs of FCC. Blech.

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At the heart of so-called Net Neutrality, the official-though-hopelessly-vague-and-hopefully-illegal policy of the FCC, is the idea that all data streamed over the internet should be treated equally.

Simply as a description of how data is handled on networks, that's wrong for many reasons. And when it comes to "zero-rated" services, which allow users unlimited access to some subset of data, it can be obviously pernicious.

As Mike Godwin wrote here last year, opposition to zero-rated services—such as free Wikipedia or limited Facebook access in the developing world—plainly works againt the interests of impoverished end users, starving them of content and information in the name of some devotion to an abstract goal.

But what about here in the First World, or at least the United States? In league with Net Neutrality zealots, the FCC is taking a long look at T-Mobile's Binge On service, which allows users to stream Hulu, Netflix, HBO, Sling, and other video and music services without having that data count aganst their monthly usage caps. In order to facilitate that, T-Mobile downgrades the signals. It's that action that has groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which once employed Godwin and provided the legal oomph to help overthrown the awful Communications Decency Act in the 1990s, all upset.

From an interview  at Forbes with Tech Freedom's Evan Swartztrauber by the Manhattan Institute's Jared Meyers:

[Swartztrauber]: With Binge On, T-Mobile reduces video resolution to optimize it for smartphone screens. While the change in video quality is hardly noticeable to a consumer, as 480p (DVD-quality) streams look great on small screens, the optimization helps T-Mobile mitigate network congestion and improve overall customer experience….

The FCC's Open Internet Order codified certain principles of net neutrality for broadband providers: No blocking of lawful content, no unreasonable discrimination or throttling, and no paid prioritization. But it did not make a clear judgment about free data given away through zero-rating programs, which include Binge On. Instead, the FCC said it will judge these offerings on a case-by-case basis. Net neutrality, in its most extreme form, requires that all Internet traffic be treated exactly the same with few, if any, exceptions. Under this interpretation, any type of zero-rating should not be allowed at all. This is why some self-styled "consumer advocacy" groups oppose Binge On. In other words, T-Mobile's exemption of video streams from data caps is not the issue that EFF is fighting. EFF argues that when T-Mobile optimizes or downgrades video quality, it is in violation of the FCC's no-throttling rule.

It isn't clear yet whether and how the FCC will rule in this case, though at Swartztrauber notes, because of the United States' outsize global influence, that ruling will have a world-wide impact (and India has already shut down Free Basics, a stripped-down, zero-rated version of Facebook). A proposed zero-rated plan at the old carrier Metro PCS was important in the development of Net Neutrality and the current head of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, seems very interested in flexing his muscles. As important, the idea of the FCC (or any government authority) working things out on a "case-by-case" basis is deeply troubling as it guarantees confusion and un-level playing fields by building in the possibility of government action.

As Meyer observes: "This is another war against consumer empowerment, in the name of consumer empowerment. Not only are regulators always at least one step behind innovators, but their vague language stands in the way of innovation and competition. If the FCC rules against T-Mobile, it will serve as another example of regulators myopically focusing on one objective, while ignoring all the nuances and negative consequences of their crusade." Whole thing here.

The purported standard for much government regulation of business is supposed to be whether a particular rule or practice helps the consumer, not its effect on existing firms. In reality, that standard is rarely kept front-and-center in deliberations and the case for or against something is discussed largely in whether it increases or decreases the number of companies in an often-arbitrarily defined market. Hopefully, this sort of case, in which T-Mobile customers are getting a free service that they can either accept or reject, will help show that Net Neutrality is unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst. Do we have more choices or fewer choices for better or shittier services when it comes to Internet and mobile carriers?

Despite what you've heard (including often-fantastical comparisons to foreign countries), things are getting better all the time on that front.

Court challenges to the FCC's Open Internet Order are proceeding apace, so all of this may be water under the bridge. Indeed, it is far from clear that the FCC has the statutory authority to be doing what it's doing.

Last year, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who voted against Net Neutrality rules, called Net Neutrality "a solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist." Watch below. Read transcript here.

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51 responses to “Does T-Mobile's Binge On Service Violate Net Neutrality? Probably, Which Is All You Need To Know About Net Neutrality.

  1. Why do they hate free stuff?

    1. Everyone claiming in the Trump/Sanders thread that people will never vote against free shit, behold….

      1. They aren’t against free shit. They are against competition. They don’t want lefty media outlets being not free when the “corporate media” is. Ergo, either make it illegal to for “corporate media” to offer free television, or mandate that they distribute the left’s preferred media outlets for free as well.

        1. I think you are giving them too much credit. IF there are people out there cheering on the FCC in getting rid of a free service, it will be because doing so allows them to strike the right moral posture. So maybe people will vote against free shit, if they can feel righteous for doing so.

          1. Yeah, those are the useful idiots on social media. They read the propaganda that net neutrality was about puppies and kittens and non-discrimination and decided they were in favor of it.
            The thought-leaders just want to make sure that leftist media outlets are as close to free as possible. They don’t want “free” corporate media competing with them for viewers.

            1. Agreed. What we (i.e., libertarians) need is a way to get the “useful idiots” (I’d be a bit more gracious) on our side.

            2. Agreed. What we (i.e., libertarians) need is a way to get the “useful idiots” (I’d be a bit more gracious) on our side.

              1. We need to start claiming that our positions are about free puppies and kittens, I guess.

    2. Basically, TV and video is free but Facebook, Wikipedia, and email are not free.

      By providing a different rate for different types of content, it’s a two-tiered system. When you read the Stanford Professor’s study, you’ll learn that T-Mobile already through its own admission, showed that it doesn’t work with music. The Stanford professor found some 2,000 licensed broadcasters online. Of the 2,000 broadcasters, only 50 take part in “Music Freedom”. That is less than 1% of all legitimate business taking advantage of Internet.

      Also, companies like T-Mobile love it when content (TV/Video) is sent in a manner which is unencrypted and doesn’t have DRM. T-Mobile will then keep a unencrypted cached a copy of the video available for later use on its network for other customers. I’m not sure if rightsholders to content know that this is happening.

  2. Yo FCC: Fuck you. And may you accidentally fall into a woodchipper.

    1. Fuck

      I can’t wait until you are fined for using that kind of dirty language on the internet.

    2. I think that’s the wrong response.

      FCC needs to clear additional airwaves so Verizon and AT&T can also provide similar services. Just because T-Mobile is “first”, doesn’t necessarily mean they are the “best”.

      Internet and data should be discriminated. It should be either “on” or “off” like a light-switch. It’s bits and bytes not Baskin Robbins where you have to choose one of 31 different flavors of internet.

      But I do have to give T-Mobile customer service credit… They sure know how to BS its customers into thinking the problems with the service are 100% unique, and only happening to you when you call them… And if you listen carefully, they’ll always tell you that the problem will be resolved the minute you buy a new phone.

  3. With Binge On, T-Mobile reduces video resolution to optimize it for smartphone screens. While the change in video quality is hardly noticeable to a consumer, as 480p (DVD-quality) streams look great on small screens, the optimization helps T-Mobile mitigate network congestion and improve overall customer experience….

    Uh . . . This is what engineers do. We tweak operational parameters to optimize the user experience while simultaneously reducing operating costs. So now Win/Win is a crime.

    1. You might as well try to teach your dog calculus. At least he’ll appreciate the attention.

    2. Don’t bring your high-fallutin’, fancy engineerin’ learnin’ into this discussion. This is a highly technical regulatory matter, that only Top Men have the patience and wisdom to decide.

    3. This. The entire concept of QOS goes out the window with NN. I’m sorry, but I know your phone call is choppy, someone is torrenting an anime.

      1. ALL PACKETS ARE EQUAL, COMRADE.

    4. This is what engineers do

      So you are not a government lawyer? Then what can you possibly know? Your opinion is meaningless.

    5. This might cause people to stop watching Democracy Now! if they can get Hulu for free, but can’t watch Amy Goodman skewer the capitalist system on an equally free-of-charge basis the sheep will become brainwashed tools of the corporate elite!

      1. Which is funny because from what I’ve seen, there’s a LOT of money to be made in Democracy.

        1. I’m sure someone could come up with some sort of combination Che Guevara/Democracy Now t-shirt.

    6. The way I see it is like this-

      + Heroin is still illegal on a national level. The good news is when a person binges on heroin, the person will OD and the problem fixes itself.

      + Recreational use of weed in Bellevue, WA (Where T-Mobile is based) can be a real, lunchtime escape.

  4. the FCC said it will judge these offerings on a case-by-case basis

    Gee, I wonder what side Verizon and AT&T will be on in this case…

    1. They’re not likely to do anything.

      T-Mobile was shedding customers, prior to the AT&T/T-Mobile tie-up. Oftentimes, companies do this to make it more attractive for their suitor (AT&T) buy-out.

      So with fewer customers, no airwaves for LTE, and T-Mobile selected a technology which was not compatible with high-speed (T-Mobile launched 4G HSPA+; 3GPP Release 12. AT&T chose HSPA 3GPP Release 8). AT&T was able to make a relatively low offer which Deutsche Telekom accepted.

      AT&T and Verizon also know that the rule of law must be followed, and respected. The long-arm of the law is regulated such that laws need to be followed; dating back to a time when “Computer Inqury #1” and “Computer Inquiry #2” ultimately led to the 1984 anti-trust break-up of AT&T. T-Mobile, also comes from a state-owned monopoly era, but was originally a part of the post office. It’s almost like the USPS converting to a publicly-traded company, and then within 2 years, going to canada and Mexico to deliver daily mail.

  5. The purported standard for much government regulation of business is supposed to be whether a particular rule or practice helps the consumer, not its effect on existing firms. In reality, that standard is rarely kept front-and-center in deliberations and the case for or against something is discussed largely in whether it increases or decreases the number of companies in an often-arbitrarily defined market.

    Actually, regulation proponents cloak their protectionist mentality with appeals to antitrust: can’t let T-Mobile offer no-data-caps service because then T-Mobile could damage its competitors, and that would be bad for the consumer because T-Mobile would then have a de facto monopoly on that service.

    Of course, such a concern is stupid because (a) these are the steps that natural competition takes, and (b) even if the result is a de facto monopoly, why is it necessarily bad for the consumer?

    1. Is anyone who doesn’t want to watch hours of free video going to join T-Mobile? I’m not looking to switch for that.

      1. Me. Can’t beat the $30 per month pricetag.

        1. Yeah, the $30/month plan is unlimited data, period. Not just video.
          I don’t watch video on my phone usually. I just want a cheap plan that I can use mainly for data services, because I don’t make many phone calls.

        2. Hmm. I’ve been paying $40 to rent Verizon’s network. Which was the only game in town in North Florida if you got out of downtown. I don’t guess its worth to switch to me. But from $75 or more plans, sure.

      2. God bless the FCC. Protecting consumers from the scourge of choice.

        And god bless India for preventing those filthy poors from having sub-par Internet access; they should be thankful to have none at all.

      3. Included unlimited 4G, voice, and SMS in Canada and Mexico is big for people who cross the border a lot.

    1. I’d consider wishing for the FCC to rule against T-Mobile just to teach everyone a lesson, but I’m not willing to assume anyone will pay enough attention to learn.

      1. People will blame market failure and corporate greed and demand even more government intervention.

        1. Well, clearly, the internet, like healthcare is broken, so we need to fix it.

  6. What if T-Mobile agrees to bundle free streaming of public access cable along with Netflix and Hulu?
    That seems to have been the formula that placated leftist fears of media consolidation in the cable industry before.

    Just require cable companies to carry ALL the local broadcasters and include a public access channel.
    So the internet equivalent would be basically … zero-rating of ALL video content?

  7. Re-phasing what kinnath wrote:

    T-Mobile is starting to make a big dent in the market ruled by Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Leo LaPorte, The Tech Guy, has been plugging T-Mobile on his radio show lately. He says many customers are getting cellular plans at half the cost from T-Mobile.

    T-Mobile’s infrastructure isn’t built up enough to fully compete yet, so they sometimes have to throttle down bandwidth hogging video streaming to keep basic service working at a lower cost to their consumers.

  8. As Mike Godwin wrote here last year, opposition to zero-rated services?such as free Wikipedia or limited Facebook access in the developing world?plainly works againt the interests of impoverished end users, starving them of content and information in the name of some devotion to an abstract goal.

    I’m really having trouble getting a gauge on what Mike Godwin’s position on NN is at large. It’s clear that as a lawyer for the Wikimedia Foundation, he seems to oppose that these zero-rated services get swept into the regulatory maw. But I can’t help but constantly get the impression that he’s playing a nuanced kind of defense here, where he believes that NN is a positive thing, but it just needs to be tweaked to keep his hobby-horse from accidentally getting sent to the glue factory.

  9. Net-Neutrality is as dumb as Obamacare. The government is in over their heads.

  10. It’s sad for the EFF that for the past decade or so I’ve simply assumed that they’re one of “completely overreacting” or “simply wrong” on pretty much everything they push.

    Sad especially since they could be doing good work, but they seem to be more focused on the equivalent of clickbait.

    1. Is it just me or have they hitched their wagon to the Equal Outcomes post?

  11. Yeah, but I dont like comcast. So I need the govt to do something about it.

  12. I need someone more familiar with the Net Neutrality to clarify something for me. Back in my undergraduate days, I was under the impression Net Neutrality was about unfair prioritization of data, i.e. if you want the good stuff/”normal service” you pay more otherwise you take the short bus to porn; NOT “unfair” undercutting of data as we have before us.

    Are they two sides of the same coin? What if Comcast decided to monopolize broadband, and institute dial-up at the current price due to lack of competitive alternatives? Are we not worried about that? Are we of the mindset that “the monopolists will be dollar-voted out of business?” What about the commentator in this thread that claimed there was only one net service in town? And what if that net service was a de facto (read: legal) monopoly?

    I view what T-Mobile is doing as competitive innovation. As it stands, I see nothing wrong with the behavior. But do we ignore region locked service providers? Do we let them implement a “fast lane” for those with cash? I thought that was the impetus for Net Neutrality.

    Help. Too busy to rummage the tubes for the answers I seek.

    1. The short version is Net Neutrality is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

      And those “legal monopolies” are all propped up and created by the local governments in the first place.

    2. Are they two sides of the same coin?

      Yes. Or, more accurately, two faces to the same regulators.

      Are we not worried about that?

      I worry about monopolies but mostly they exist because of the same type of regulatory capture that NN will enable, not in spite of it.

      What about the commentator in this thread that claimed there was only one net service in town?

      I live part time in one of the most rural parts of West Virginia. One phone/DSL provider, no cable providers, no mobile service of any kind. Those things *could* exist (well, the wired connections, anyway), but it would be really expensive because the population density is so low that the cost per customer of the infrastructure wouldn’t be competitive.

      That’s just sort of the reality of living in a very rural area. It’s a trade-off. You can’t expect to get all the benefits of living in a rural setting AND maintain all the conveniences of urban/suburban life. At least, not unless you are willing to pay for them yourself (most aren’t) or force someone else to pay for them for you (I’m not).

    3. Are they two sides of the same coin?

      Yes. If a service prioritizes say, VOIP traffic to give customers a better call experience, that’s a technical violation of Net Neutrality because you are ipso facto treating some traffic differently than others.

      The useful idiots in the tech world kept painting it as unscrupulous corporations blocking you from seeing the New York Times or some ‘competing service’ that your ISP had a stake in.

      What if Comcast decided to monopolize broadband

      They could only do that with the help of government. With an open system of competition, whatever ‘monopoly’ status Comcast enjoyed would be utterly temporary and ephemeral.

      I view what T-Mobile is doing as competitive innovation. As it stands, I see nothing wrong with the behavior.

      It doesn’t matter what you see. It only matters what five unelected bureaucrats in an office at the FCC see. This isn’t a democracy, it’s a cheer-ocracy and bitch just pulled rank.

      Do we let them implement a “fast lane” for those with cash? I thought that was the impetus for Net Neutrality.

      To simplify the concept, imagine someone like me, a tech professional, sitting at my 14.4k modem browsing the internet and telling people that the Internet Must Remain As Is otherwise unscrupulous corporations will destroy it.

      1. Cheers all.

        My libertarian jutsu was weak, my college TCOMM dogma ingrained and troubling.

        Airy Gato, Go Seamus You.

  13. So, ok man that makes a whole lot of sense dud.e WOw.

    http://www.Anon-Net.tk

  14. “T-Mobile reduces video resolution to optimize it for smartphone screens”

    They don’t reduce the video resolution (technically impossible since resolution is set at the web server), they cap the connection so you end up with your video still at the higher resolution except buffering. They also made it an automatic opt-in. T-Mobile continues to lie about it even after being called out multiple times.

    This just means they won’t ever get my money. I couldn’t care less about net neutrality, T-Mobile is doing enough to destroy themselves.

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