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T-Mobile Adds YouTube To Its Zero-Rated Binge On Program (arstechnica.com) 105

An anonymous reader writes: T-Mobile is expanding its Binge On program. The wireless carrier on Thursday announced that it is adding YouTube and seven other video services including Discovery Go, Google Play Movies, and Red Bull TV to its program which allows subscribers to stream as much as they want without billing the usage against their data plan. The carrier says that its partners can now optimize the video as well, with YouTube being the first service to make use of the feature. From an Ars Technica report, "Binge On is enabled by default and affects nearly all video regardless of whether a video provider has joined the program. Binge On throttles video streams and downloads to about 1.5Mbps, forcing the video services to deliver lower quality, typically about 480p. Video services that meet some technical requirements also get their data "zero-rated" so that customers can watch shows without it counting against high-speed data limits." Many have raised concerns about Binge On and the way it handles internet traffic. Some strongly believe that T-Mobile's program violates Net Neutrality. Earlier this year, privacy rights group, EFF, also expressed its concerns, adding that Binge On was just "throttling of all data." Interestingly, YouTube was one of the key video platforms which hadn't joined Binge On when T-Mobile first introduced the program last year. At the time, the Google-owned video portal said, "Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn't justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent." Not sure what made YouTube change its heart.
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T-Mobile Adds YouTube To Its Zero-Rated Binge On Program

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  • This is not T-Mobile, it is T-Mobile US. Obviously that is a significant difference, but I am not surprised that the editor did not notice the inaccuracy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jeffy210 ( 214759 )

      That's a little pedantic. This is a US-centric site. It should be assumed unless otherwise stated.

      • That's a little pedantic. This is a US-centric site. It should be assumed unless otherwise stated.

        Well if you're from Europe, you typically do a few things:

        - Identify yourself as "the rest of the world" even though the actual rest of the world doesn't typically share the same cultural values as Europe.
        - Get angry when any website, even a US based website, assumes the reader is living in the US. (Notice how people from the US aren't bothered if, for example, The Guardian assumes the reader is in England.)
        - Assume that every country in the world, except the United States, shares European political views.

      • In my experience of the Interwebs, as seen from outside the US, most American's act as if they believe that:
        1) Everything on the English-speaking part of the Internet is US-centric site.
        2) The Earth is a US-centric site.

        This is seriously annoying to the other 95.6 % of us people on the friggin' planet.

  • by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @12:51PM (#51716527) Journal

    The fact is HD video targeting a 5-inch OLED cell phone screen only needs 1.5Mbit/s at 1080p h.264; h.265 can apparently get as small as half the bitrate for the same quality.

    If you try to view a 3 minute video, watch the first 15 seconds, and buffer 2 minutes across your 12Mbit/s connection, you've spent 15 seconds holding the pipe at a high data rate only to discard all that data. With 100 users, that's got to be a 1.2Gbit pipe, and so you have to provide that kind of service with the cost divided among 100 users.

    If the data is throttled to 1.5Mbit/s, suddenly you can provide that kind of streaming video service to 800 users at once. They can each pay 1/8 as much of the cost, and they all receive the same service they were trying to get anyway. If they switch to something other than video, you have to give them the full 12Mbit/s; but if they're watching Netflix, you can cut back their pipe for that particular stream.

    T-Mobile has observed that this makes it reasonable to just *not* meter data if they throttle the pipe while people watch Netflix. The more of their video traffic they swing under this strategy, the more costs they save; and the end result *should* be transparent to the user. There have been a few bugs--the download bitrate is throttled if you try to download a video file because the DPI is too dumb to recognize you're not streaming--but it mostly works as advertised.

    So long as they make reasonable effort to supply the same service as an unthrottled connection--you can still watch as many Netflix or Youtube streams (on a phone, that's ONE) as with generic service--they haven't slowed down access or created a premium service; they've ensured a service works at minimal cost, maximizing efficiency and reducing the cost to the consumer.

    Broken is still broken, but it's not an evil conspiracy. Someone will still say they're trying to cut cost and screw the consumer while ignoring that they outright stop charging the consumer for the data.

    • by zlives ( 2009072 )

      +1 concise...

    • yeah, but don't tell that to the couch potatoes who think they are utter geniuses and super advanced power users for using more data than anyone else on the equivalent of sitting on the couch and watching TV all day long
    • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

      So glad you explained it this well. Even the folks over at the FTF (Fight the Future) campaign who usually back Internet rights issues I support were recently blasting T-Mobile for having this policy.

      At the time, I emailed them back, saying I thought they were barking up the wrong tree, given how many other more serious issues we face as Internet consumers.

      As a T-Mobile customer myself, I just can't see how this "Binge On" policy is anything but an improvement over the alternatives I get with any other cel

      • It's not so much that we're facing more serious issues as that this isn't a real issue. They're trying to make an application function optimally for the user, including acting exactly as it does with an uncapped pipe *and* getting the user's cost down. It's like you're buying beer and carrying it in a bucket with a hole in the bottom, and they've tried to plug the hole--which makes it a poor flower pot (no drainage), but you're not using that particular bucket as a flower pot. There might or might not b

        • Arguably ... but groups like FTF clearly believed it was a real issue. I wasn't going to get into that whole debate with them. If you're hung up on semantics, I suppose it is an issue because a zero tolerance for "zero rating" schemes means it doesn't fit the net neutrality wording of what's allowed.

          I think "Binge On" is a pragmatic solution to bandwidth problems and providing customers what they want at the lowest possible cost. Some people are taking a hard line approach to all of this - but I think that

    • by Anonymous Coward

      So why not just allow the consumer to turn on and off a 1Mbps throttle at their own will? That way, all data regardless of source or destination can be zero-rated as long as you've turned the throttle on. Doing it any other way smells of "evil conspiracy"!

    • The fact is HD video targeting a 5-inch OLED cell phone screen only needs 1.5Mbit/s at 1080p h.264; h.265 can apparently get as small as half the bitrate for the same quality.

      The bitrate needed is independant of the screen size. Also some people may connect their phone to a 75" TV.
      So in short, lame excuse for a net neutrality violation.

      • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

        The bitrate needed is independant of the screen size. Also some people may connect their phone to a 75" TV. So in short, lame excuse for a net neutrality violation.

        If the cost of me being able to get a good dataplan for $25/month is that you have to use Comcast rather than TMobile to stream to your 75" TV -- well, I think it's a price worth paying!

        • Just give me data and let me decide how I use it. If I use 5GB/month streaming on my 75" TV, why should I get throttled while someone use 5GB/month downloading apps from the play store doesn't?

          • by ljw1004 ( 764174 )

            Just give me data and let me decide how I use it. If I use 5GB/month streaming on my 75" TV, why should I get throttled while someone use 5GB/month downloading apps from the play store doesn't?

            Here's the data...

            TMobile: this operator gives really low cost dataplans for folks using 5GB/month which it achieves by limiting the quality of what people watch on their 75" TV over their cellphone.

            ATT, Verizon: these operators give more expensive dataplans for folks using 5GB/month, to subsidize the folks with 75" TVs connected to their cellphones, and who have the option to chose the quality of their streaming themselves by clicking on the "high-def" or "standard-def" button in their video-player.

            It's up

          • You have exactly that if you turn off "Binge On."

            It is trivially easy to turn it on and off at your whim.

            • Except that this feature put unfair congestion on the network. It's not as if others using it had no consequence on me.

              • That's quite a different argument and not one I think you could prove where you suffered any consequence.

                Given the fact that T-Mobile has invested in their infrastructure so much that it can compete or beat Verizon's, your experience before "Binge On" is almost always going to be worse than the present.

          • The feature is optional, you can turn it off at any time.

            Binge On is simply "We'll make it free if you do it in a way that doesn't make it hard to support multiple people on one tower." If you prefer to use "normal" streamed video, where the client and server literally try to suck up as much bandwidth as they possibly can, you're still allowed, but you have to use up your data quota doing it.

            • You still pay for it even if you don't use it. You still suffer the network congestion because others use it. You loose even if you turn it off.

      • by lgw ( 121541 )

        How has this anything to do with "Net Neutrality" T-Mobile doesn't sell content, and they aren't throttling the competition while promoting that content. Further, this program is open to any content service - provide the infrastructure, and T-Mobile will stop charging their users for our data. Sounds right to me.

        • They are throttling. It doesn't matter who sells the content. They say the program is open to any content service, but we all know it is impossible to implement and the small players are currently not selected and most of them probably never will.

      • That's why the plan is optional. If you want to connect your phone to a 75" TV then don't use Binge On.

        • Except that without Binge On T-Mobile would be able to offer more data for the same price. So I am loosing a lot with this feature.

          • That's funny, since T-Mobile increased the data caps in its plans around the same time that they started the Binge On program. And their prices are already better than any other provider.

          • by JazzLad ( 935151 )
            You know, my ISP could save money not providing email (no, they don't use Google or Yahoo, etc). If I don't want to use a provider that provides 'real email' I can switch, but the fact of the matter is, I get a better deal where I am despite the fact I don't use this service. Use your feet if you can get a better deal with AT&T (or VZW if you're ok with CDMA or Sprint if you're a sadist :)).

            Or, do like me and use an MVNO that uses the same network, but a better rate.


            Or, you could always just bitch
    • I recently moved into a house that, while 2mi from a major metropolitan area city center (Knoxville, TN), there is no wireline broadband available. Comcast lines stop next door and AT&T installed a cabinet up the street a decade ago for DSL equipment but hasn't populated it. There's a cluster of about 24 houses that have no wireline broadband options.

      We do, however, have a solid LTE signal from all carriers here. After burning through 14-18GB the last couple of months between my wife and myself, we j

  • And honestly, I don't want this. I have unlimited data already, and I would prefer to watch in HD, or at least at 720p at the very least. I don't want to watch stuff at 480 again. The fact that this can force me to watch in lower def (at least according to reports from when this was announced, don't actually know if it's true) pisses me off more than anything, and that would still be true even if I didn't have unlimited data.

    • Re:I have T-Mobile (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 17, 2016 @12:58PM (#51716575)

      Then turn it off. It's opt-in by default, but you can turn it off.
      There's nothing stopping you from getting every last bit if you want to burn data.

    • So log into your account and opt out.

      It'll turn off the free streaming, and turn off rate reduction, and your video use will be counted in your data allotment and not restricted.

      The advantage of the Binge On stuff for unlimited data customers is that it doesn't count against your hotspot data use even if you're streaming to a laptop, and you get one free movie rental a month from some service I've never used so I have no idea if it's any good.

      Getting pissed off without bothering to find out if something's t

    • Its a 4-6 inch screen, you are whining over nothing,. I record high resolution space scenes at 4k on my main rig and convert them down to 800x480 for 7" Raspberry Pi screens. Both my input resolution and my output target are bigger than your phone screen and i notice no loss in fidelity.
    • You can dial #BNG# (#264#) to check your Binge On status, #BON# (#266#) to turn it on, or #BOF# (#263#) to turn it off.

      I repeat: Dial #263# to turn it off.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This should be an account setting to opt-in or out according to your preferences.
    They can default it to opt-in all they want, but users that are willing to consume their plan's data allotment to get higher quality data streams should be allowed to do so.
    Maybe they are chrome-casting it to a bigger screen?

    • by Burdell ( 228580 )

      This should be an account setting to opt-in or out according to your preferences.

      You mean, like it has been since they introduced it? You can turn it on/off from their app, their website, and/or via text messages.

    • In other words, it should work exactly how it does? You can either opt out by logging into the billing portal, through their app or by texting a number.
  • If you don't like it, there is an option to turn it off, and stream full speed. It just uses your data allowance.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yes, this is on by default (and if we're being reasonable, this isn't really a horrible thing at all) however this is an optional thing that people with unlimited data or want higher quality video can turn off, either through the account management website, the tmobile app, or "you can dial #BNG# (#264#) to check your Binge On status, #BOF# (#263#) to disable Binge On, and #BON# (#266#) to enable Binge On."

    It seems like a pretty reasonable way to handle high traffic load with slightly obtuse but not very di

    • Yes, this is on by default (and if we're being reasonable, this isn't really a horrible thing at all) however this is an optional thing that people with unlimited data or want higher quality video can turn off, either through the account management website, the tmobile app, or "you can dial #BNG# (#264#) to check your Binge On status, #BOF# (#263#) to disable Binge On, and #BON# (#266#) to enable Binge On."

      Oh but we are completely reasonable. This is violating NN blatently. It is a horrible thing. It's one of the many things NN is there to prevent. Favoritism to a class of data is not a stretch no matter how you word it. It's FAVORITISM. What part of that doesn't break NN? Care to explain that, since you want to explain how Binge On works and all that, and try to tell it isn't not horrible.

      If we, collectively, don't put a stop to this BS, we're collectively welcoming an internet where if your data isn'

  • "...believe" it violates Net Neutrality is about like "believing" in global warming. It's a fact. Denying facts only says something about the denier.
    • Your analogy is bad.
      One has science backing up a natural process. The other is a complex legal law made for many interpretations.

      Stuff on my Intranet runs faster than stuff on the Internet. So you can expand particular services from the ISP where they are setup on their local network, so you get premium access to such data.

      The thing is the ISP are not denying or stopping any access to other systems, you get to used the agreed charges and speed. They just happen to give some content providers better treatme

    • by King_TJ ( 85913 )

      Technically, yes. But to me, it's more a matter of protesting the idea that net neutrality laws should apply equally for a high speed service over fiber or coaxial, vs. cellular data over airwaves and a limited number of costly towers.

      If a cellular carrier just said "Unlimited streaming as fast as our network can go for everyone!" -- you'd get a log-jam where nobody had usable data service in no time. Then you'd *really* have something to complain about, as far as what you got for your money.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @01:19PM (#51716763)
    I thought of this a few years back when Google was paying to open up the hotspots at airports for free during the Christmas holidays (dunno if they still do that). The original push for Net Neutrality came when ISPs were trying to increase costs by charging a transaction fee to both the buyer and the seller. Somewhere along the line the concept got genericized to where any transaction with the buyer should only be with their ISP, and any transaction with the seller should only be with their ISP.

    What happens when someone subverts this structure? What if the seller (website) offers to pay the buyer (you) directly? YouTube could. They make ad money every time you view a video. What if they offered to pay you a portion of that revenue each time you viewed a video? Now what if they notice you're viewing it over a high-cost mobile connection, and offer to send your payment as a credit to your mobile carrier offsetting your data costs, instead of a direct deposit into your bank account? (Pretend they're trying to increase adoption of their mobile app, so they aren't offering payments for viewing on your computer.) You basically end up with what's happening here - T-Mobile allowing you to access YouTube over your phone for free.

    See, people got so wrapped up with the principle of Net Neutrality (that each person/company should only have to pay their own ISP), that they lost sight of the reason why we wanted Net Neutrality. Increasing costs is a symptom of economic inefficiency. Decreasing costs happen when you make economic transactions more efficient. We want to make the economy more efficient. That's what gives up productivity gains, and increases our standard of living despite us doing the same amount of work as before.

    When ISPs tried to raise costs by charging websites (who would be forced to pass the extra cost onto the end customer), that was adding an economic inefficiency to the system. Net Neutrality was suggested as a principal we could follow which could thwart that inefficiency from expanding. Now we have a situation where a website is offering to lower the cost for the end customer. Yes it also happens to violate the principle of Net Neutrality. But lowering costs by increasing efficiency is the overall goal here that the concept of Net Neutrality was created to enforce. In other words, we've encountered a situation where the simplified rule of Net Neutrality runs counter to the desired goal of increased economic efficiency. That suggests the original rule was too simplified.

    I'm trying to think of a way this T-Mobile/YouTube deal could end up costing the end customer more money. Yeah it makes other video streaming sites relatively less desirable, but their absolute desirability is the same as before because the cost to stream their data hasn't gone up. At least not unless T-Mobile is doing something underhanded and increasing their rates to make this YouTube deal a net profit for them.
    • Damn, I literally just posted in this thread; this was the next post I read after. I'd mod you Insightful if I could.
    • See, people got so wrapped up with the principle of Net Neutrality (that each person/company should only have to pay their own ISP), that they lost sight of the reason why we wanted Net Neutrality. Increasing costs is a symptom of economic inefficiency. Decreasing costs happen when you make economic transactions more efficient. We want to make the economy more efficient. That's what gives up productivity gains, and increases our standard of living despite us doing the same amount of work as before.

      No. We di

      • by Maow ( 620678 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @06:43PM (#51719033) Journal

        Binge On is tantamount to censorship, in the sense that T-Mobile is directly limiting the amount of non-"participating" video you can view.

        Not sure about that; it could just as easily be flipped around to say that Binge On is increasing the amount of video viewed from non-participating sites, because a customer might have a fairly fixed amount of YouTube videos they watch, but now they can do that and still have data to spare before hitting their caps.

        So they fire up another video site and watch some of it, where before Binge On they'd not bother.

        I wonder what's the cost for content providers to join Binge On? Unless it's onerous, I really can't see the censorship part of it.

        • I wonder what's the cost for content providers to join Binge On? Unless it's onerous, I really can't see the censorship part of it.

          Your choice of terminology reveals that you don't understand the issue: in reality, there is no such thing as a "content provider" as a separate and distinct class on the Internet. T-Mobile should not be making a distinction between Netflix and the proverbial Icecast server in some random guy's basement! In principle, all users are content providers.

          And even though Binge On is a

          • by Maow ( 620678 )

            I wonder what's the cost for content providers to join Binge On? Unless it's onerous, I really can't see the censorship part of it.

            Your choice of terminology reveals that you don't understand the issue:

            That's perhaps true, however I'm comfortable being on the side of the argument that is not likening Binge On to "censorship".

            Also, I should state that I'm really quite ambivalent about Binge On, and as a non-American, it has absolutely no impact on me.

            in reality, there is no such thing as a "content provider" as a separate and distinct class on the Internet.

            Ok, I can somewhat agree with that - I host "content" on my home PC httpd, so it is true that everyone is or can be, to some degree, a "provider".

            T-Mobile should not be making a distinction between Netflix and the proverbial Icecast server in some random guy's basement!

            Again, how is Icecast guy being negatively affected by Binge On?

            With users being able to gorge themselves on "data

    • I'm pretty much with you until the end.

      Yeah it makes other video streaming sites relatively less desirable, but their absolute desirability is the same as before because the cost to stream their data hasn't gone up.

      This is only true right now.

      ISPs like to trump around saying things such as "99% of our users only use 1GB a month of metered data!" as a justification of setting their cap at 1GB.
      As more and more websites/services to pay ISPs to zero-rate those websites/services, ISPs could (and probably will), proudly proclaim that "99% of our users only use 0.5GB a month of metered data!", and lower the cap to 0.5GB. And so on and so on... until the cap gets low enough to serio

    • ...but only because it can be turned on or off by the customer. I keep it shut off on my account, but I rarely stream video anyway. Watching video on even a large-screen phone just doesn't have much appeal to me. If I'm at home, I want a large screen, and if I were using a Chromecast I'd be on Wi-Fi anyway. If I'm away from home, there aren't many places I'd be wanting to watch video at all, especially on a phone. Indeed, I find autoplay videos infuriating.

      My plan is soft-capped at 3 GB/month, and I rarely

  • ...think that T-Mobile would offer this service if it wasn't allowed to throttle the video streams? That is why net neutrality is a con.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Thursday March 17, 2016 @03:40PM (#51717913)
    I love the program. I couldn't care less about 1080 out 720p video on my crappy smart phone and this way YouTube doesn't eat up all my bandwidth for pixels I can't see anyway, but there are some real nasty questions around net neutrality. Still if you think this'll hurt new players in the streaming video market you're nuts. The barrier to entry there is already so high this isn't even a bump in the road for them
  • This, and Comcast's antics with intranet shennigans....... Where the heck is enforcement of Net Neutrality? NN needs to be enforced, or it's utterly pointless and we have to concede we do not have it.

    And I don't mean petty fines that the big companies can absorb as a cost of doing business. REAL ENFORCEMENT!

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