For the past few years, T-Mobile has been making waves with its ‘Un-carrier’ campaign, successfully separating itself from other carriers while shaking up the entire industry in the process.
Quite possibly the biggest Un-carrier move to date was the debut of Binge On, which allows users to stream videos from certain services over their mobile devices, without it counting toward their monthly data allotment.
Unfortunately, despite the appearance of a great offer, Binge On has struggled with bad publicity since its inception, and now a new study from Northeastern University is bringing to light even more issues with the incentive.
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In order to find out whether or not Binge On was actually doing what T-Mobile said it should do, the researchers “reverse engineered” the methods in which T-Mobile implemented the incentive.
“We set out to learn exactly how Binge On works, and we compared what we found with its stated policies,” says Northeastern University researcher David Choffnes. “There were significant differences between the two.”
Although T-Mobile has insisted that it is not violating Net Neutrality with Binge On, its “zero rating” (which means the usage of whitelisted services doesn’t affect your data plan) does create a competitive disadvantage for other services.
“The internet has been hugely successful because it enables innovation, where all new internet applications receive the same network service as incumbents—it’s a level playing field,” says Choffnes. “T-Mobile’s policy gives special treatment to video providers that work with them. What if every ISP did this, but in a different way? In such a world, the next Netflix, Hulu, or Pied Piper might never get off the ground because keeping up with ISPs and their policies would leave them chasing their tails.”
But that’s just the beginning.
Not only is Binge On potentially violating the FCC’s Open Internet Order, it also doesn’t work nearly as well as subscribers rightly expect it to work.
While conducting trials with YouTube streaming, the researchers found that the resolution dipped down to 360p, despite T-Mobile’s claims that Binge On streaming is 480p or higher. Even worse, “if a video provider does nothing, that is, neither opts into or out of participating with Binge On, its video traffic to T-Mobile subscribers who use Binge On will be given reduced bandwidth, but the subscribers will still be charged for the streaming.”
As if all of that weren’t bad enough, the study also shows that T-Mobile’s ability to actually track the video providers appears to be lacking, at best. The researchers discovered one provider that had been incorrectly labeled, and was therefore able to offer high-quality streaming by default.
“T-Mobile’s detection methods are very simple, so there’s no way they can always be right,” says Choffnes. “That means that Binge On is likely slowing down traffic that is not video. This raises serious concerns about compliance with the Open Internet Order.”