I’ve been avoiding T-Mobile’s Binge On offering and the broader the sponsored data dispute for weeks now, but it’s time to weigh in. Since it introduced its disruptive mobile video offering under which consumers can watch video from certain sources and not have it count against their data caps, the question of whether net neutrality is being violated has lingered in the background. The FCC is very carefully looking for information, but it’s not as if they really need any to know what is going on.
Certain content is getting preferential treatment that smaller players may not be able to get. The bits may not be affected, but the economics of delivery certainly are. And the new economics clearly favor the large and established at the expense of the small and disruptive, which is why the bigger content providers are not screaming about it more generally. I’m not saying sponsored data is necessarily evil, but as I’ve expressed before, what the FCC should probably consider is to make sure that the barrier to accessing such programs is low enough that any content provider can participate.
But now T-Mobile may have gone too far. For ‘Binge On’, participating content providers may get their bits exempted from data caps, but the video gets sent at lower resolution. Yet now Google’s YouTube, which does not participate, says its video is also being downgraded. T-Mobile says they aren’t slowing down the traffic, just that it’s lower resolution that’s mobile optimized.
The fact that they are interfering with it involuntarily is enough of a red flag though. If data goes in one side and comes out the other at a lower rate by design, it doesn’t matter whether you call it ‘mobile optimization’ or that you think users won’t be able to tell due to the screen size. If it wasn’t agreed upon by the endpoints, it is also still throttling. As Shakespeare wrote, ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.
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