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T-Mobile Caught Throttling Video Bandwidth

We won the battle for net neutrality so that companies would not be able to discriminate against users or content providers. But T-Mobile isn’t following the rules with their BingeOn program. The company refuses to acknowledge this, but the EFF has confirmed that they are throttling video content and breaking videos that are not covered under special agreements with them. Then T-Mobile’s CEO cussed out the EFF on Twitter when asked questions about it during a Q&A session.

EFF Calls Out BingeOn as Video Throttling

On January 4th, the EFF published an article on how T-Mobile is throttling video content in relation to their BingeOn offer. BingeOn allows subscribers to stream some videos on their smartphones without using up their data minutes and getting throttled down to unbearable speeds. Content providers need to sign on with T-Mobile for free, then their videos are “optimized” to 480p. This is not bad for phone streaming, but users are not complaining about these providers who have agreed to the plan. According to users who have posted complaints on several forums, T-Mobile is throttling all video content whether or not providers have agreed to the terms of BingeOn. Furthermore, BingeOn is applied automatically to all subscribers. They can opt out if they don’t want BingeOn, but it should really be opt-in instead and not forced on users who may not even know what opt-out is or that it is an option.

T-Mobile says that they are doing their so-called video optimization to help their subscribers save on their high speed data limits. This sounds so touching until you realize that they are calling 480p DVD quality when it is the minimum tolerable, and they are claiming to provide a better experience with minimal buffering with this low quality bitrate. What this looks like is T-Mobile riding the wave of uncertainty that surrounds the net neutrality ruling of the FCC. There are questions about whether companies can discriminate by selecting which applications can run freely past data capping restrictions or congest the connections between them and Web companies. T-Mobile is using a zero-rating scheme, testing the limits of the ruling regarding content discrimination.

The EFF tested the BingeOn scheme on a 4G LTE connection using a video on their server. The throughput was measured every 5 seconds for the duration of 4 tests: browser streaming, direct download, direct download for non-video file extension, and direct non-video download. The tests were performed on both encrypted and non-encrypted connections so that the team could observe T-Mobile’s “optimization”. They found that BingOn video streaming (over HTTP), which was capped at 1.5 Mbps, was twice to almost four times slower than non-BingeOn streaming (over HTTPS). Downloading of the non-video file was not so bad at just over 4 Mbps, but when BingeOn was not used it got 5.5 Mbps.

All HTML5 video streaming is obviously being throttled with BingeOn. T-Mobile is throttling streaming videos whether or not they have signed on with BingeOn, and they are also throttling videos that are being downloaded. Scary is that fact that the video file that was labeled as a non-video file was also throttled. This indicates that T-Mobile is examining more than TCP and HTTP headers when looking at their subscribers’ content passing over their networks. The company told the EFF that they are not looking at their users’ content but that they have another way of knowing what is and isn’t a video, though they did not say what way that is. The testers also compared the hash of the server video to the one of the downloaded video in every test and determined that they were exactly the same. This means that there is absolutely no alterations to video streaming that could optimize it in any way. It is simple throttling.

T-Mobile also lied about giving users a better streaming experience with minimal buffering. Any video that can’t go down to 480p when streamed on a T-Mobile device does not stream properly even on a device and connection that can handle higher bitrates. When confronted with this issue, T-Mobile confirmed that they really don’t optimize videos and do reduce allocated bandwidth. Content providers then have to take notice and adjust accordingly or not be able to deliver their video content. T-Mobile refuses to acknowledge that this is throttling, however. But terms like optimization and downgrading apply to the situation much less than throttling does.

T-Mobile won’t admit that they’re throttling because this would be a clear violation of net neutrality and also the FCC’s Open Internet Order. Never mind the issue of zero-rating for now, since the tests have determined that the company is throttling traffic based on type – videos – and that it is not a matter of congestion. When questioned further during a Twitter Q&A on January 7th, T-Mobile CEO John Legere cussed out the EFF. The question was, “Does Binge On alter the video stream in any way, or just limit its bandwidth?” Legere even implied that the EFF was being paid by some force to cause T-Mobile trouble, and was being smug about it even when everyone knows that the EFF is mostly funded by individual donations. FFTF, first-hand witnesses to Legere’s lies, came out in support of the EFF and its findings. They put up the website DouchebagCEO.com, redirecting to JohnLegere.net where people can find a link to file a complaint against T-Mobile and share the story via Facebook and Twitter.

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