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YouTube Accuses T-Mobile Of Effectively Throttling Its Traffic

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According to Alphabet-owned YouTube, T-Mobile is causing interference with traffic to the popular video sharing website. This raises a new issue as regulatory bodies take a closer look at the carrier's video streaming promotion.

T-Mobile started to offer subscribers low-quality video streaming through its Binge On program, in exchange for having the related fees for data usage waived. Video optimization is restricted to 480p - which the company says is DVD-quality - but the list of services that can be accessed through the program is extensive. The lineup includes Netflix, Hulu, HBO Now, HBO Go and many more. When the program was first announced, YouTube was interestingly not on the list of partners. T-Mobile claimed that it is working out some technical issues and will soon add YouTube to the list.

T-Mobile Under Fire

The Binge On program is now in full effect, and according to YouTube and several ally companies, T-Mobile is also decreasing the quality of videos that are not part of the program. YouTube said that in essence, T-Mobile is throttling, or degrading, the traffic of the website. T-Mobile users that have the Binge On service activated will need to pay data usage fees when watching videos on YouTube, but by default, the program reduces quality for all video services being accessed by the user.

"Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn't justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent," said a spokesman for YouTube.

The Internet Association, which is an advocacy group that lists Alphabet's Google as one of its members, echoed the sentiment, stating that T-Mobile is throttling all video traffic over all data plans with the Binge On program, regardless of network congestion.

In addition, YouTube is calling out T-Mobile for not requiring subscribers to activate the feature, as the Binge On program was activated automatically for all of the carrier's subscribers under standard plans wherein users are paying for 3GB of monthly data or more.

Binge On vs. Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission adopted net neutrality rules early in the year, which were put in place to make sure that Internet providers do not favor traffic from certain sources and instead put all of them on equal footing. Binge On already raised eyebrows among consumer advocates when it was announced, as the service showed signs of circumventing these net neutrality rules.

T-Mobile, however, argues that the service falls in line with the regulations, giving customers the option to turn off the program at any time and being open to sign up video providers as partners as long as they are able to meet the basic technical requirements.

YouTube's statements against T-Mobile comes as the Federal Communications Commission sent letters to T-Mobile, along with AT&T and Comcast, to ask for an explanation on how the companies allow unlimited streaming for partner websites without the data being counted against the data caps of subscribers.

The FCC is looking to see if the companies are in violation of the Open Internet rules. The letters, however, are not the formal launch of an investigation into the companies, and are instead a simple request for information.   

While T-Mobile's Binge On program has drawn criticism, it may have an unlikely ally in FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who praised the program last month for being pro-competition and pro-innovation.

Wheeler said that the program is clearly in line with the criteria of the FCC as stated in the Open Internet Order. Nevertheless, he did mention that the agency will be monitoring T-Mobile's service as it does with all programs and services that need to be evaluated for their compliance with net neutrality laws.

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