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Updated EFF Findings on T-Mobile's 'Binge On'

Discussion in 'Wireless News' started by JFB, Jan 4, 2016.

  1. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    EFF Confirms: T-Mobile’s Binge On Optimization is Just Throttling, Applies Indiscriminately to All Video

    Back in November, T-Mobile announced a new service for its mobile customers called Binge On, in which video streams from certain websites don’t count against customers’ data caps.1 The service is theoretically open to all video providers without charge, so long as T-Mobile can recognize and then “optimize” the provider’s video streams to a bitrate equivalent to 480p. At first glance, this doesn’t sound too harmful—customers can watch more video without worrying about their caps, most will consider 480p to be adequate quality (especially on a small phone screen), and the harms of treating individual video providers differently are diminished when T-Mobile offers the program to any provider for free.

    (more at the link...)
     
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  2. scottb

    scottb Bronze Senior Member
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    This is disappointing to read. It's one of the few things T-Mobile has done lately that seems a bit shady, or perhaps misrepresented.
     
  3. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    John Legere response from T-Mobile



    Critics Beware! Binge On is about customer choices – not limitations

    I’ve seen and heard enough comments and headlines this week about our Binge On video service that it’s time to set the record straight. There are groups out there confusing consumers and questioning the choices that we fight so hard to give our customers. Clearly we have very different views of how customers get to make their choices -- or even if they’re allowed to have choices at all! It’s bewildering …so I want to talk about this.

    First of all, T-Mobile always…ALWAYS…thinks about how to improve the customer experience and how to make wireless better. We’re obsessed with it. It’s how we built Un-carrier and won millions of customers away from the carriers.

    It’s also why we launched Binge On a couple months ago.

    Customers now have the option to get WAY more video from their data plans PLUS FREE VIDEO from popular sites, AND more power and control over how they use their data. And customers want it! Video usage is huge! Just since launch, customers are watching 12% more video. In fact, we’ve already seen daily average viewership on one of our top services spike 66% among customers not on unlimited high-speed plans, in other words the ones who benefit from Binge ON the most! AND viewing time increased 23%. It’s crazy!

    And let’s be clear…any video content providers can choose to be included and have their content stream free if they’re technically capable. We launched with 24 partners like Netflix and Hulu and just today we announced 14 more that we just on-boarded, including A&E, HISTORY Channel, Lifetime, PlayStation Vue and more. And more than 50 other service providers have raised their hands to be included. Way more than we expected so soon…so I think they get it!

    So, let’s see…our customers love it, our content partners love it, anyone can join, there is no charge or extra fee, and you don’t have to do anything to get it, NOTHING. And best of all, customers have COMPLETE CONTROL over how or whether to use the benefits of Binge On … and these guys are lobbying for headlines to make that sound like a bad thing. Are they crazy?? Seriously, what am I missing here?

    There are people out there saying we’re “throttling.” They’re playing semantics! Binge On does NOT permanently slow down data nor remove customer control. Here’s the thing, mobile customers don’t always want or need giant heavy data files. So we created adaptive video technology to optimize for mobile screens and stream at a bitrate designed to stretch your data (pssst, Google, that's a GOOD thing). You get the same quality of video as watching a DVD – 480p or higher – but use only 1/3 as much data (or, of course, NO data used when it’s a Binge On content provider!). Watch more video, use less data from your service plan. That's an important and valuable benefit!

    Most importantly…YOU, the customer, are always in complete control of your experience. If you decide you WANT the full resolution video, great! Just flip the switch in your account. It’s totally up to you to decide. You can do this as often as you want and it stays set the way you set it.

    So why are special interest groups -- and even Google! -- offended by this? Why are they trying to characterize this as a bad thing? I think they may be using Net Neutrality as a platform to get into the news. As a company that’s a huge fan of a free and open internet, I find that disappointing. At T-Mobile, we’re giving you MORE video, more for free, and the power of choice. What’s not to love??

    YouTube complained about Binge On, yet at the same time they claim they provide choice to customers on the resolution of their video. So it's ok for THEM to give customers choice but not for US to give our customers a choice? Hmmm. I seriously don't get it. Customers have MORE choices than before. And these guys are complaining? Who do they think they are? Do they have the right to dictate what my customers – or any wireless consumer -- should or should not be able to choose for themselves?? No way!

    By the way, what do you think Dumb and Dumber would have done if they’d been first to market with this technology? I guarantee you they would have found a way to charge you -- the customers -- AND the video content providers! But we GAVE it to customers – at zero additional cost -- just because you picked T-Mobile.

    Look, everyone wins here! Customers are thrilled – trust me, I hear from them every single day in social media. Video providers couldn’t be happier to deliver more of their great content to mobile devices, knowing their viewers aren't forced to "watch the data meter."

    Music Freedom paved the way back in 2014. We launched with 7 music partners to offer free music streaming that doesn’t hit your data. Today we have more than 40 music services and our customers stream almost 200 million songs EVERYDAY! It’s amazing! All at no cost to customers…and no cost to partners. It’s really hard to argue with the customer benefits of this model.

    But, hey, I guess there ARE several ways to handle the exploding demand for mobile video:

    Do nothing and leave consumers to fend for themselves.
    Charge a ton more in monthly bills and overage penalty fees – I’m looking at you Verizon and AT&T.
    Or… innovate with new technology to get more video to customers who want it and give them options if they don’t.
    Number 3 is the Un-carrier way.

    Of course we’re going to give customers great choices. I can’t figure out who the big guys are advocating for?? All I know is who I’M fighting for…and that’s you and America’s wireless consumers. Every day. You can count on it.
     
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  4. scottb

    scottb Bronze Senior Member
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    A thoughtful response. But he did not dispute any of the EFF's conclusions--it's still throttling and it's an opt-out service. He also glossed over the fact that the providers of content must be able to handle switching the resolution to 480p. There is no optimization going on. From here it looks as if all T-Mobile is doing is throttling data speeds for video content and depending on others to "optimize" it.

    I was hoping he would respond, but this doesn't help. Thanks for posting it.
     
  5. bobolito

    bobolito Diamond Senior Member
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    I'm surprised this is even an issue for anyone. From my perspective, BingeOn is about bringing customers to those video services. It's an incentive to get people to sign up for Hulu, Netflix, HBO, etc. Think of how they conveniently left out YouTube, which is free, so there's no need to add it to BingeOn. If you are already a subscriber to any of those video services, I think this is a welcome gimmick, even though I am not particularly thrilled about watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones on a 5-inch screen. In my opinion, most people use their tiny screens to watch the latest cat video on YouTube or the latest funny video on Facebook, which again, are not included in BingeOn. In addition, I much rather watch a video downgraded to 480p on my phone screen if it is going to play uninterrupted, than a 1080p that can start buffering every 5 seconds. I test these things all the time and 480p looks pretty darn good on an iPhone screen.
     
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    #5 bobolito, Jan 11, 2016
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
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  6. scottb

    scottb Bronze Senior Member
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    @bobolito

    I think your perspective is just what Mr. Legere is looking for--good for consumers so bring it on.

    It doesn't matter that Youtube was left out, all video streams are throttled whether they are BingeOn services or not. There is no optimization done by T-Mobile, they rely on the content provider to detect the slow speeds and change the video resolution. If the provider does not recognize the slow speed, the video will stutter and provide a poor experience.

    I don't have strong feelings about the feature, but I do take offense to the misrepresentation of what it is, and what T-Mobile does and does not do.

    I still love T-Mobile and am entertained by Mr. Legere but I don't like what he is doing with this one.
     
  7. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    Some more deep thoughts from John Legere on the Binge On controversy:

    Open Letter to Consumers about Binge On

    Wow. What a week it has been out there about Binge On! Many of you have been speaking out on the topic from a number of perspectives and I have been listening closely. I debated with myself about letting this topic drop completely so everyone, consumers and our customers, could catch their breath – but the discussion has gotten so convoluted that I had to do some follow-up to help clarify a few things before we can move on.

    But first, let me reiterate some things about T-Mobile that have been lost or buried in the dialog over the past week or so.

    T-Mobile, my entire leadership team, and I have been advocating for consumers since the launch of the Un-carrier – and that will NOT change. We are forcing this industry to make changes, to be more transparent and to be more competitive. I won’t apologize for that. I think it is absolutely in the consumer’s best interest!

    Equally important to note is this: T-Mobile is a company that absolutely supports Net Neutrality and we believe in an open and free Internet. We want to continue to innovate and bring creative new benefits to market for all of our customers. That is who we are. It’s what we do. It will never change.

    Second, I think it is really important for everyone to understand what Binge On is, why it is such a great option, and how it can bring you – the consumer – value…. IF you want to enjoy its benefits.

    We invented Binge On to provide customers with an easy and effective way to stretch their data bucket. Knowing that the number one (and climbing) use of data out there is video, it was obviously the natural place to focus. Binge On is like an economy button built into a new car to save gas, and it’s a benefit that customers got the minute we launched, to use it as much as they want to. Period.

    But there is suddenly a LOT of confusion about Binge On. I keep hearing from customers that they love it – but have recently heard from some others (many of whom have never even tried Binge On, and simply have a different agenda) that they don’t like it. Well you know what? That is completely OK too.

    Look, innovation in this industry is important and it can be tough, but debating the merits of anything that breaks new ground is healthy! Unfortunately, right now some people may be confused, so this letter is to help break it down:

    What is Binge On?
    Binge On is a FREE benefit given to all T-Mobile customers. It is and always has been a feature that helps you stretch your data bucket by optimizing ALL of your video for your mobile devices. It has two key parts to it:
    We use our proprietary techniques to attempt to detect all video, determine its source, identify whether it should be FREE and finally adjust all streams for a smaller/handheld device. (Most video streams come in at incredibly high resolution rates that are barely detectable by the human eye on small device screens and this is where the data in plans is wasted). The result is that the data in your bucket is stretched by delivering streamed video in DVD quality - 480p or better (whether you have a 2GB, 6GB or 10GB plan etc.) so your data lasts longer. Putting aside the 38+ services for which we provide FREE data for video through Binge On, as discussed below – this “stretching” of your data bucket is estimated to allow you to watch UP TO 3X MORE VIDEO from your data plan than before. This is a huge step forward.
    Binge On gives you FREE data that doesn’t hit your data bucket at all when you stream or watch from any of our participating video services (38 of them to date & counting).… We want to keep growing this list and already have over 50 services interested in coming on board. We don’t charge any video streaming companies to participate and every service provider is WELCOME! All the partner has to do is a minor amount of technical work to help us identify their video data reliably.
    How do I get Binge On?
    As with virtually all of our Un-carrier benefits, we immediately gave it to everyone! First we reached out to all of our customers via email and SMS message, and told them all about the new functionality that was coming their way. Then we turned it on, for everyone! So if you are a T-Mobile customer – you already have Binge On!

    We strive to default all of our customer benefits to “ON.” We don’t like to make customers dig around to find great new benefits -- that is something a traditional carrier would do when they really hope you, the consumer, won’t take any action. Can you imagine the disappointment, if people saw our TV commercials about Binge On, then went to watch 10 hours of video expecting it to be free, and only THEN learned that they needed to go into their settings to activate this new benefit? That’s how the Carriers would do it, but not T-Mobile. Everyone has it from day 1, period.

    But here’s the thing, and this is one of the reasons that Binge On is a VERY “pro” net neutrality capability -- you can turn it on and off in your MyTMobile account – whenever you want. Turn it on and off at will. Customers are in control. Not T-Mobile. Not content providers. Customers. At all times.

    Stream in HD for a movie, and go back to stretching your data bucket when you are done. It is 100% up to you – the consumer.

    Look, by now you know that I am a vocal, animated and sometimes foul mouthed CEO. I don’t filter myself and you know that no one at T-Mobile filters me either (no, they don’t even try). That means I will sometimes incite a bit of a ‘social media riot’, but I’m not going to apologize for that.

    I will however apologize for offending EFF and its supporters. Just because we don’t completely agree on all aspects of Binge On doesn’t mean I don’t see how they fight for consumers. We both agree that it is important to protect consumers' rights and to give consumers value. We have that in common, so more power to them. As I mentioned last week, we look forward to sitting down and talking with the EFF and that is a step we will definitely take. Unfortunately, my color commentary from last week is now drowning out the real value of Binge On – so hopefully this letter will help make that clear again.

    For now, I hope you will remember one very important thing.

    T-Mobile is about breaking the mold, eliminating the status quo and finding new and better ways to give consumers what they want. We will keep working to do that, keep improving, and yes I’m sure I’ll keep shooting my mouth off periodically. That comes from my passion, drive and fight to fix an arrogant and broken industry that is dominated by big companies that want to keep the status quo and don’t care enough to engage with the consumer or to even have the public debate (yes, I mean you Comcast, AT&T and Verizon).

    So no matter the issue, I promise you that I’ll keep listening to customers, keep eliminating pain points and keep fighting hard for wireless consumers, because that’s why I’m here! #wewontstop
     
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