T-Mobile's Description Of 'Binge On' May Violate FCC Rule

Net neutrality advocates have criticized T-Mobile for automatically throttling all video as part of its new Binge On service.

But that might not be the only net neutrality issue posed by the service. T-Mobile is also potentially violating the Federal Communications Commission's transparency rule, which requires carriers to clearly and accurately describe speed reductions and other traffic management practices. That's according to Project Disco, which recently examined Binge On.

T-Mobile's BingeOn, launched in November, exempts video streams offered by more than three dozen providers from consumers' data caps. While that seems like a huge benefit for consumers, there's a downside: When BingeOn is activated, T-Mobile slows down all video streams -- from BingeOn participants as well as everyone else -- to 1.5 Mbps, which reportedly has resulted in choppy video streams from some companies.

Project Disco scrutinized the language T-Mobile uses to communicate the throttling to subscribers, and concluded that the company's descriptions leave something to be desired.

For one thing, T-Mobile didn't say anything about slowing down video in its initial email informing subscribers about the program, or on a page that offered more information.

The company goes into more detail on a separate page, but uses the arguably misleading word "optimization" to describe its throttling practice. Project Disco concludes that the company's notices to consumers, combined with its problematic use of the term "optimization," fail to comply with the FCC's transparency rule.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere has repeatedly countered critics by saying that T-Mobile's users can turn off Binge On any time they want to. But net neutrality advocates say that the company should have made the program opt-in. 

Despite Binge On's drawbacks, separate research from P3 Group suggests that many people with the service are spending more time streaming mobile video than in the past. P3 Group, which observed usage patterns of more than 1,000 T-Mobile customers who participate in a panel, reported that customers spend up to 50% more time per session watching Netflix and Hulu than before last November.

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