Initially, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler gave Binge On the thumbs up, stating that it is an “innovative” service. "It's clear in the Open Internet Order that we said we are pro-competition and pro innovation. Clearly this meets both of those criteria. It's highly innovative and highly competitive," added Wheeler.
However, upon further examination, it looks as though the FCC is beginning to question the motives behind Binge On and similar “zero-rating” programs from AT&T (Sponsored Data, Data Perks plans) and Comcast (Stream TV). "We want to ensure that we have all the facts to understand how this service relates to the commission's goal of maintaining a free and open Internet while incentivizing investment and innovation from all sources," stated Roger Sherman, chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Roger Sherman last week.
YouTube is now throwing some more wood on the fire with its own objections to Binge On. Companies like Netflix, HBO, and Hulu had to signup to meet T-Mobile’s “technical criteria” to exempt their streaming customers from data caps. The highest profile name left off the list (in addition to Amazon) was of course YouTube.
But just because YouTube didn’t sign on to have its streaming video quality reduced to appease T-Mobile’s requirements doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been affected by Binge On. In fact, Binge On reduces the quality of video streams even if a service is not an an official T-Mobile partner. For YouTube in particular, T-Mobile throttles video streams, which automatically causes videos to select a lower 480p quality setting to compensate.
“Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent,” said a YouTube spokesman in a statement.
What makes this policy even more egregious according to YouTube is that Binge On is turned on by default for T-Mobile customers. Customers must login to their online account to disable Binge On. Because of this opt-out nature, T-Mobile customers that might be unfamiliar with Binge On could take their complaints about reduced streaming quality to YouTube instead of directing their anger to the real source: T-Mobile.
YouTube’s objections are also backed up by The Internet Association, which released a statement yesterday blasting T-Mobile. “T-Mobile’s new ‘streaming optimization’ program appears to involve throttling of all video traffic, across all data plans, regardless of network congestion,” said The Internet Association. “Reducing data charges for entire classes of applications can be legitimate and benefit consumers, so long as clear notice and choice is provided to service providers and consumers. However, a reasonably designed zero-rating program does not include the throttling of traffic for services or consumers that do not participate.”
As for T-Mobile, CEO John Legere simply doesn’t see what the big deal is: