Binge On, the “unlimited” video-streaming service from T-Mobile, stifles competition, free speech and customer choice and because of this it violates basic principles of Net Neutrality, a Stanford University law professor has found.
T-Mobile, one of the country’s largest providers of mobile internet access, launched Binge On in November. The service features video from Netflix, Amazon, HBO and others. Binge On customers can watch this content without it counting against their data allotments.
But on Friday, Barbara van Schewick, a professor at Stanford Law School and director of the university’s Center for Internet and Society, joined YouTube and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in accusing T-Mobile of violating Net Neutrality principles. In her report, van Schewick outlined how Binge On was helping T-Mobile set itself up as an Internet “gatekeeper,” one that would determine “winners and losers online,” and distort competition.
According to van Schewick, by exempting Binge On’s video from customers’ data plans, T-Mobile is providing preferential treatment to Binge On’s partners. The professor also found that while T-Mobile says any video provider can join Binge On, the reality is that T-Mobile requires partners to adhere to a specific technical criteria, which does not accept encryption. The report from Stanford alleges that Binge On is quicker to accept larger services into the program and this effectively discriminates against smaller players who must wait. This also forces video providers to shape their services to T-Mobile’s technical demands. She warned this will mean the end of the “innovation without permission” era.
In addition, van Schewick says Binge On’s partners are all commercial video providers, and notes the lack of non-profit, user-generated and educational offerings.
“As long as Binge On gives special treatment to video as a class,” she wrote, “it undermines the vision of an open Internet where all applications have an equal chance of reaching audiences, and people, not ISPs, choose how to use the bandwidth available to them.”
For these reasons, van Schewick says “Binge On” violates the law.
T-Mobile executives have said they are “baffled” by criticism of Bing On, citing factors including the ability of users to opt out of the program. Last week, the company introduced a new feature to make it easier for users to switch “Binge On” off and on by dialing a number. The company says any video provider can join the program, and it notes that the low-def streams for all video content mean that customers are benefitting from lower data use even when watching video content from providers not in the program.
But the Stanford finding is the second negative assessment from an independent party in less than a month. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a group that advocates for internet users and technology companies, said earlier in January that after studying Binge On, it concluded that “T-Mobile is throttling (Binge On’s) video streams, plain and simple.”
EFF wrote, “It’s pretty obvious that throttling all traffic based on application type definitely violates the principles of net neutrality.”
T-Mobile and CEO John Legere have denied that his company throttles and tried to call into question EFF’s motives. We will have to wait to see if Legere will accuse Stanford University of having any hidden agendas.