There’s been quite a brouhaha surrounding T-Mobile’s Binge On service ever since it was announced last year. Both YouTube and the EFF have come out against Binge On, and now a Stanford law professor has published a lengthy report against it as well.
A new report from Barbara van Schewick claims that Binge On violates net neutrality. The report, which was also submitted to the FCC, makes several arguments as to why Binge On goes against net neutrality principles. van Schewick says that despite T-Mobile’s claim that anyone can join Binge On after performing a “minor amount of technical work,” the requirements to joining Binge On are actually “substantial.” She says that those requirements exclude services that use the User Datagram Protocol, “making it impossible for innovative providers such as YouTube to join.” The report also says that Binge On’s requirements discriminate against providers that use encryption.
van Schewick goes on to say that Binge On “distorts competition.” The report points to studies that show that customers prefer zero-rated content that won’t use up their data, which makes free streaming Binge On services more attractive than those that do use data. That also means that those free streaming services are more attractive to video creators.
Another issue that van Schewick has with Binge On’s partners is that the content that they offer is largely commercial. “Binge On stifles free expression,” the report says, because there’s little user-generated or educational content on the service.
van Schewick feels that Binge On also hurts innovation, saying that so long as people “respect fundamental Internet standards,” they can reach everyone at a low cost. However, Binge On requires providers to work with T-Mobile to become a free streaming service, and sometimes those providers need to tweak their service to meet T-Mobile’s technical requirements.
Finally, van Schewick argues that Binge On “limits user choice” because some services stream free while others use your data allotment. van Schewick says customers with free Binge On streaming can watch unlimited Netflix, but a limited amount of non-free Binge On services. van Schewick specifically names Amazon’s video streaming as an example of a provider that counts against a T-Mobile customer’s data, but Amazon was added to the free Binge On streaming yesterday.
van Schewick goes on to make suggestions on how T-Mobile could tweak its service to no longer violate net neutrality. Those include a “zero-rated low-bandwidth mode” that customers could toggle off and on that would enable them to access the web at Binge On speeds and not use their data. van Schewick also suggests that T-Mobile could increase the amount of allotted data offered to customers each month to balance out the non-free video that they’re watching.
We’ve already seen YouTube and the EFF come out against Binge On in recent months, and now this lengthy report claims that T-Mobile’s service is illegal. While the report has been submitted to the FCC, there’s no guarantee that the agency will take action against T-Mobile over Binge On. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has previously said that Binge On is “highly innovative and highly competitive,” but he added that the FCC will keep an eye on Binge On going forward. The FCC recently met with T-Mobile to discuss Binge On, but those meetings were only meant to gather information, not to take any action against T-Mo.
T-Mobile hasn’t yet responded to van Schewick’s report, but it’s not difficult to imagine what John Legere and Co. would say. Legere’s biggest argument that Binge On doesn’t violate net neutrality is that customers can switch it off and on whenever they’d like, and yesterday they made doing that easier with new short codes.
You can read van Schewick’s full report for yourself right here.