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Electronic Frontier Foundation The Internet

EFF: T-Mobile "Binge On" Is Just Throttling of All Data (eff.org) 227

onedobb writes: Tests confirm that when Binge On is enabled, T-Mobile throttles all HTML5 video streams to around 1.5Mps, even when the phone is capable of downloading at higher speeds, and regardless of whether or not the video provider enrolled in Binge On. This is the case whether the video is being streamed or being downloaded—which means that T-Mobile is artificially reducing the download speeds of customers with Binge On enabled, even if they're downloading the video to watch later. It also means that videos are being throttled even if they're being watched or downloaded to another device via a tethered connection.
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EFF: T-Mobile "Binge On" Is Just Throttling of All Data

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  • Once the feline is out of the sack, and there's been no great uproar or new legislation created,

    I just assume the other providers are either already doing the same thing or asking R & D to get on it.

    "Whaa-aat? We can throttle the data?!

  • by damnbunni ( 1215350 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @09:05AM (#51240943) Journal

    I don't get the complaint.

    Binge On specifically says that certain providers don't count against your data cap at all, and others will be processed to use less data.

    Quoted from http://www.t-mobile.com/offer/... [t-mobile.com] :

    Stream unlimited video FREE on your favorite streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Sling, ESPN, Showtime, Starz and more without ever using your high-speed data.

      Plus, almost all other video streaming is optimized for mobile so you watch 3 times more video with your data plan.

    So what's the headline here? 'Telco provides exactly the service they claim to provide'?

    If they were downgrading video when Binge On was turned OFF, then THAT would be news.

    • by Drewdad ( 1738014 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @09:14AM (#51240981)

      Well, to begin with, can you please advise what "optimization" is taking place?

      Stating that the stream is "optimized for mobile" implies something more than just rate-limiting the video stream.

      Oops. I'm sorry, they meant "optimized for T-Mobile" not "optimized for the customer."

      • by bromoseltzer ( 23292 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @09:22AM (#51241005) Homepage Journal

        Just let TMO explain that they're optimizing shareholder value. I think that's the expression.

      • Well, to begin with, can you please advise what "optimization" is taking place?

        Stating that the stream is "optimized for mobile" implies something more than just rate-limiting the video stream.

        Oops. I'm sorry, they meant "optimized for T-Mobile" not "optimized for the customer."

        It, like most advertising, means absolutely nothing, at least in a technical sense. They say you get 3x the video so in that context optimized for mobile simple means reducing the amount streamed by 1/3 "optimizes" the video for mobile. The result may be poor if the video provider does not adjust for the drop in throughput; but T-mobile doesn't consider that their problem to fix; so in the end they are "optimizing" it even if what they are doing isn't necessarily what the customer may think it means. My gue

        • My guess is one reason to do that is to avoid having customers go over their monthly cap and pay extra

          No, T-Mobile solved that by making all of their data plans unlimited 2g (except for the unlimited 4g LTE plan) with an allotment of 4g LTE service.

      • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @10:43AM (#51241353) Homepage

        I work in marketing and advertising by turns these days (seems like every career trajectory eventually ends up somewhere in this playground, whether near top or bottom of the food chain), so I have to admit guilt here as well.

        There is a tendency to operate with the goal of eliminating negative and limiting language because, surprise surprise, positive language tests out well in actual conversion numbers. But there is unquestionably an element of half-truth in it.

        "slowed down and degraded to reduce data use" becomes "optimized for mobile"
        "we've raised our prices" becomes "we've changed our plans to offer the best possible value to our customers"
        "we've removed a bunch of features that raised costs for us" becomes "we've streamlined our service for ease of use"
        "we've slashed our support staff" becomes "we're enabling you to find answers more quickly with our self-help area"
        "we've eliminated our warranty" becomes "our product is so reliable that it's made warranties obsolete"

        and so on.

        It's not the actual policy that's the problem. It's that language is Orwellian. Bad becomes good. "Optimization" is supposed to be a good thing. But in this case, the customer's presumption that "optimized" equals "good for me" is actually not true; the word is being used in opposition to its conventional connotation.

      • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @11:30AM (#51241541) Journal

        Well, to begin with, can you please advise what "optimization" is taking place?

        Video streamed to your cell phone is encoded to a bitrate for cell phone screens, which is usually around 700-1200kbit/s. T-Mobile throttles to 1500kbit/s, preventing excessive buffering (i.e. keeping your phone from downloading 8 minutes of a 10 minute video in the first few seconds), reducing total transfer (when people stop watching a video halfway through, they're only buffered up to maybe 30 seconds past that) and instantaneous bandwidth usage (100 people jumping onto Youtube all at once aren't suddenly using 9 gigs/sec).

        In other words: You only need ~1.5Mbit/s to stream video to your cell phone, so they decrease network congestion and total transfer costs by throttling the bandwidth for video streams to 1.5Mbit/s. This allows the quality of the streaming service to remain as expected (bandwidth is higher than streaming video bitrate) and enforces predictable network utilization by this particular application, thus allowing more reliable cost projections and decreasing the risk of cost overages, which allows T-Mobile to provide the service at a lower price (in this case, bluntly unlimited video streaming, because the cost of the average number of streaming users times 1.5Mbit/s is less than the service cost of providing unlimited video streaming, and there will be zero overages from this group of users).

        They could provide full-speed, unlimited video streaming. They'd have to A) charge more; or B) wait for infrastructure build-outs, then not increase their network speed (just throttle *everything*). In other words: they'd have to match the price of the service to the cost of the service.

      • Well, they said all that is to know in that quote: You have to spend 3 times the time to watch a single episode of whatever because downloading takes longer.

    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Tuesday January 05, 2016 @09:18AM (#51240993) Homepage Journal

      The complaint is that they're throttling all videos, regardless of whether they come from the zero-rated providers or not. Also they're throttling rather than, as they claimed, "optimizing" them, which means, for example, that if the provider that's streaming it isn't using something like DASH or HLS to adapt the streaming rate to the current network conditions, your video is going to stutter and become unwatchable, rather than gracefully downgrade to a slower bitrate.

      The only leg that T-Mobile has to stand on here is that the service is technically optional. But they've outright lied about what it is, even at one point claiming it wasn't throttling, and implied it only applied to a set of participating providers. They're claiming it's zero rating video in exchange for throttling, but as we can see here, that isn't the case. And with high profile non-participants non-zero-rated providers like YouTube being throttled, it's all the more absurd.

      T-Mobile needs to step back and rethink this. At the very least, they should turn off throttling for everyone other than the named zero-rated providers. They have the germ of a good idea here, but they haven't been honest about the implementation, nor consistent.

    • I think that in this case T-Mobile is doing something that the streaming providers should just be doing in the first place. My kids all have iPod touches. Youtube will use a ridiculous amount of bandwidth if you let it. I limited the devices to 1 Mbit on the home network and they haven't complained of any problems. They are actually able to watch more videos while at the same time using less of the limited resource. There's almost no reason to use a high quality stream on a device with a 4 inch screen.

      • by stdarg ( 456557 )

        I limited the devices to 1 Mbit on the home network and they haven't complained of any problems. They are actually able to watch more videos while at the same time using less of the limited resource.

        So you have a data cap on your home internet connection? That sucks.

        There's almost no reason to use a high quality stream on a device with a 4 inch screen.

        You typically hold a 4 inch screen pretty close, so you actually do need high quality streams.

        That said, kids don't seem to care that much about HD. They'll happily watch cartoons on youtube that appear to be from a 30 year old VHS tape ripped with the highest compression settings available, to the point where you can't make out features on characters' faces.

        Personally I can't stand it. Perhaps it reminds me too much of the few years I went

      • There's almost no reason to use a high quality stream on a device with a 4 inch screen

        If you're looking at a 300+ppi screen (nearly 720p) from only a few inches away, I'd say there's still some good reason. 1Mbps is still on the higher end of quality with H.264, though.

    • If all they're doing is providing a 1.5mb pipe, then why do they need to be the gatekeeper of what sites can use it?

    • Just my .02: My big complaint is that Binge On is all-or-nothing, where I would want at least per-app, but ideally per-video, granularity, which T-Mobile seems disinclined to offer. Instead, they seem to want to turn it on for everyone and count on everyone being lazy enough to leave it on.

      For example: 480p may be fine, especially given the screen size, for fooling around on YouTube on my phone. But if I'm watching a movie on Netflix... maybe even streaming it to a full-sized TV via ChromeCast... I want

      • And this is how all T-Mobile offerings have been for the first 3mo of their release, for at least as long as I've been with them (e.g. since Simple Choice). It's the price of being first-to-market, but they do at least tend to fix the issues by the end of 3 months, so tweet John Legere your complaint and be amazed as he actually listens!
    • I have noticed that since "Binge On" has been enabled, I've been unable to watch "non-Binge" video from other sources.
      If I try to watch 1080p Video, (knowing full well that it will count against my data), the video stutters, freezes, pauses, etc.

      This article is suggesting that because I have "Binge On" for apps like HBOGo, I've lost the ability to effectively watch any HD video.

      THAT is the complaint and the problem.

      • More details from the article:

        If the video is more than 480p and the server sending the video doesn’t have a way to reduce or adapt the bitrate of the video as it’s being streamed, the result is stuttering and uneven streaming—exactly the opposite of the experience T-Mobile claims their “optimization” will have.

        Given the difference between what T-Mobile implies they do and what we found, we contacted them to get clarification. They confirmed that they don’t do any actual optimization of video streams other than reducing the bandwidth allocated to them (and relying on the provider to notice, and adapt the bitrate accordingly).

      • Huh, I wonder if they're just doing this in areas with higher than average usage. I just watched this video [youtube.com] from my phone, wi-fi turned off, binge-on turned on, without a single stutter, in full 1080p glory.
  • The total data rate for all customers combined is limited. This means that throttling the rate for some users will make it faster for everyone else.
    It is better for everyone else if video download speed is limited to what is making sense. Let's just hope that they introduced transfer speed control to make sure that everyone gets enough data to watch the videos. People not getting more than they need is just added since it comes for free and helps others.
  • You're getting free downloads, and you are upset that they are slow? Turn it off, get them fast and use up your data allotment.
    • You're getting free downloads, and you are upset that they are slow? Turn it off, get them fast and use up your data allotment.

      They are throttling even the providers that you still get charged for.

    • You're getting free downloads if you're streaming video from the providers T-Mobile has blessed. If you don't stream from them, you still "enjoy" lowered video quality (which, in this implementation, is almost certainly going to make some videos unwatchable), but you still pay.

    • You're getting free downloads, and you are upset that they are slow?

      It's not just the "free downloads". T-Mobile is throttling Youtube, which is not included in the "Binge-on" plan.

  • They can't favour different providers with their throttling, so they need to do it indiscriminately.

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