Update: T-Mobile has released a video and formal response to Binge On critiques, which we’ve added below.
T-Mobile executives said today that they’re “dumbfounded” by criticism of the way the company is handling video streams through its “Binge On” program — delivering their most pointed response yet to complaints from YouTube and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“I just think they’re using it as an opportunity to get in the news,” said Michael Sievert, T-Mobile’s chief operating officer, referring to the EFF without naming the group, during a talk at the Citi Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Las Vegas today.
Sievert continued, “I mean, they’ve got an agenda around net neutrality, which by they way, we applaud — we’re huge fans of net neutrality at T-Mobile. But I think somebody that’s got an agenda views this as a platform to make a bunch of points and get in the news and it’s really unfortunate because the customer is the one that gets caught in the crossfire.”
T-Mobile’s Binge On program, unveiled in November, lets its customers stream video from services including Netflix and Sling TV over the mobile network without counting against data plans. As part of this, the company reduces the quality of the video streams, but says the quality is still more than adequate for mobile screens. Customers can also opt out of the Binge On program at any point.
The first sign of problems came when YouTube complained that T-Mobile was throttling its videos, even though YouTube isn’t part of the Binge On program. Then, earlier this week, the EFF presented evidence that the wireless carrier was throttling video streams indiscriminately.
The EFF concluded, “Setting aside for the moment the question of when zero-rating constitutes a violation of net neutrality in and of itself … it’s pretty obvious that throttling all traffic based on application type definitely violates the principles of net neutrality.” A basic tenet of net neutrality is that all data be treated equally in both how it’s delivered and how much it costs consumers to access.
Here’s our transcript of the T-Mobile executives’ comments today in response to those statements. Sievert spoke along with T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter and CTO Neville Ray, answering questions from Citi’s Michael Rollins.
Sievert: We’re actually dumbfounded that there’s some people out there that are critiquing it on vague net neutrality basis and so on. It’s crazy to us. I mean, this is something that’s a huge step forward for customers and the feedback has just been phenomenal. You can see it in our results, we had a great quarter.
Rollins: So if we spend a minute just on what’s been in the press, there’s been a criticism and a concern. So the criticism was that other video services might be getting rolled into the Binge On compression, so I think YouTube was in the press as feeling like they’re getting clawed into this. If you could address that and whether that’s an issue or not that you need to deal with. And then the second concern was the net neutrality and if you just sort of briefly couched why you’re confident in that position…
Sievert: First of all, everybody is rolled into it, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. It sounds like some people are confused about that. So take the case of YouTube. Every YouTube stream is part of Binge On, if the customer’s got Binge On turned on, and what happens is, now, when you’re watching YouTube, you get three times more data relative to if you had taken a full high def stream, from your data plan. Three times more video from your data plan than you did before you turned on Binge On. I mean, think about that, that’s a huge benefit. Now, they haven’t done the work yet to integrate, to become, part of the free service, but that’s massive. When people are looking at a mobile device, they’re really concerned, especially people over at AT&T and Verizon, super concerned about being on the meter and the idea that with this incredibly freeing device of the smartphone, it’s free except for you’re on the meter. Tick tock tick tock every moment. And suddenly now at T-Mobile you get three times more video on YouTube than you did before from your data plan. So it’s huge innovation.
We’re kind of dumbfounded that a company like YouTube would think that adding this powerful new choice –which is what it is, I mean customers have full control over it — could somehow be a bad thing. I mean, when I go to YouTube, I’ve got choice right there in the menu, I can run high-def or low-def. But why should customers have to choose every time? Why should they have to do it video-by-video or site-by-site? Can’t they make a global choice that says ‘Look, this is a mobile device, I don’t want to waste data, I don’t want to take down three times more data than my eyeballs can see and blow my plan. Can’t I just have a setting that sets it on all my videos?’ And the answer is yes, absolutely, it’s called Binge On. You’re in control of it. The fact that people think that that control, power being put in the customer’s hands is somehow a bad thing totally baffles us, it’s absurd.
Ray: I think that’s the key piece. I mean, we’ve delivered a level or layer of customer choice that didn’t exist. How can that be a bad thing? If you don’t like the program, just, pop, turn it off. And you can turn it on an hour later if you want, right? I mean it’s not…
Sievert: I actually don’t think they think it’s a bad thing, like this think tank that critiqued it, I just think they’re using it as an opportunity to get in the news. I mean, they’ve got an agenda around net neutrality — which by they way, we applaud, we’re huge fans of net neutrality at T-Mobile. But I think somebody that’s got an agenda views this as a platform to make a bunch of points and get in the news and it’s really unfortunate because the customer is the one that gets caught in the crossfire. We’re passionate about giving customers great choices and control and power and innovation like Binge On, that’s what we’ve done. And you know, the true test is the customer, which we think we’re very in touch with and they just love this thing. It’s fantastic.
Carter: I think that there’s really three cornerstones to threading the needle here. And there’s a lot of complex law and interpretation on it, but the opt-in or -out part is absolutely key. The next key is open door. This is available to anybody (any video service) who wants to take advantage, to join the whitelist. All they have to do is comply with our fairly simple technical requirements. And there’s no payment to T-Mobile in the open-door policy. Come all, come everyone. And it’s the right thing to do. And I think the third aspect is it’s fair and free. And when you look at all three of those, you know we’re highly confident under all the various interpretations and standards out there, that this is an innovation that will stand the test of time.
Update: T-Mobile CEO John Legere jumped in to protect Binge On as well. In the video below, he reiterates many of the points made above, again hitting on the idea that organizations are making a fuss about this just to get some press.
He also notes that T-Mobile customers are streaming 12 percent more video that before the Binge On program started, with one service streaming to 66 percent more daily viewers. However, the service was automatically turned on after a couple announcements, which means that many users may not even know they’re not using up data to stream videos.