Skip to main content

It turns out T-Mobile really is throttling all video through BingeOn, according to the EFF

There's been a lot of talk for the last year or so over how closely T-Mobile walks the line between violating Net Neutrality with their features, and when BingeOn was announced that conversation got louder than ever. A service that promised to work with specific providers to make streaming video free, as long as you agreed to only stream in 480p from those providers. For budget-savvy consumers, this seemed like a pretty sweet deal. For anyone interested in making sure T-Mobile treats everything you do you on your phone the same way, it sounded like a nightmare that would no only be difficult to manage but next to impossible to keep from stepping on the toes of content providers who weren't partners.

A couple of weeks ago, YouTube — which is not a BingeOn partner — claimed T-Mobile was throttling content without explanation or permission. T-Mobile quickly responded with a statement claiming what YouTube viewers experienced was optimization, and not throttling. Thanks to some thorough testing from the EFF, we now know what T-Mobile is doing to videos that aren't included in BingeOn is exactly throttling, and brings the company even closer to the line between violating and not violating Net Neutrality regulations.

In reality, according to an EFF report, T-Mobile is actively throttling HTTP traffic.

As a service, BingeOn is fairly simple. You choose to turn it on, and the way it is supposed to work — meaning the way T-Mobile claims it works — is when the apps that partner with T-Mobile are streaming video they do so at 480p and that data doesn't count against your monthly data allotment. If you watch video from a non-BingeOn partner, your video is supposed to play the same way it would if BingeOn was disabled and count against your monthly data allotment as such, which makes sense. You agreed to play by T-Mobile's rules for a cheaper monthly bill by way of less data billed, and you sacrifice some video quality on a 5-inch screen such that many people wouldn't notice anyway. No big deal.

In reality, according to an EFF report, T-Mobile is actively throttling HTTP traffic down to 1.5mbps when BingeOn is enabled regardless of where you're getting your video from. This includes HTML5 video, video files downloaded to play directly on your device, and even video files that aren't directly labeled as such in the HTTP headers. There's no attempt at optimization, meaning no adjustments are being made to the files to make them perform better under these conditions. If the stream requires more than 1.5mbps to stream adequately and BingeOn is enabled, the stream stutters and buffers and the user has no idea it's because they have BingeOn enabled.

It doesn't look great, and T-Mobile should absolutely be more clear about how BingeOn performs, but it's also important to understand that the EFF report is functionally incomplete. There's still quite a bit we don't know about how T-Mobile's partner arrangements work, and that's an important part of whether it's a good idea to grab pitchforks and demand the FCC investigate, which is what the EFF suggests at the end of their report. What T-Mobile needs to do right now is stand up and be transparent about this process, and avoid using marketing nonsense to explain how this process is supposed to work. In the mean time, if you're a BingeOn customer and have had problems streaming video from non-partner services, there's a good chance you know where to point the finger right now.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at iMore. He's a passionate futurist whose trusty iPad mini is never far from reach. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Reach out on Twitter!

14 Comments
  • This makes sense. T-Mobile isn't performing magic that other carriers are unable to match but they want customers to feel like they are so they accentuate the positive (unlimited video streaming) and fail to mention the limitation (compressed/limited bandwidth/throttling of the video quality). Basically, marketing.
  • You deserve what you get with this third tier carrier... They're a joke.
  • A joke just like att, vz and sprint Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Fastest joke in my area. I get it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Glad I switched back to Verizon after trying to t-mobile for a third time. They're not getting my business anymore. They also don't like to stand behind their supposed guarantees like this new coverage BS and their lifetime coverage guarantee they now offer instead of the test drive. Sent from the iMore App
  • This. Verizon is competitive with their pricing as well now. I've tried T-Mobile a couple of times over the past year and always end up back on Verizon.
  • Ironically, Verizon for me has been going down hill for the past 6 months. Most of the people I talk to in the area with Verizon are noticing the same thing. Since all my iPhones on my account are unlocked, and none under contract (one has about 6 months on an "edge" plan that I may just pay off to avoid the headache), I am thinking of going to AT&T.
  • love att Sent from the iMore App
  • Have t-mobile unlimited LTE plan and no issues since day 1. Had them for over a year now and now that Band 12 has come out I do get better signal and LTE inside buildings I didn't before like my home. My speeds are great able to stream no problem on high quality settings no dropped calls. I personally use too much data 15-20gb alone and almost 30-45gb as a family so verizon and att are too expensive. Plus traveled out of the country and had unlimited data, not LTE but I had 4g/3g speeds which was great at no extra cost. It all depends where you live too.
  • Russell Holly doesn't know ****. It's very simple, if you don't want to use Bingen On go into My Account Application and simply shut it off. I have unlimited data and shut mine off the 1st day, my YouTube Videos load up immediately long before I can reach 1/ 4 way thru the video. I run my videos on the highest HD that each video is made. My sister doesn't have unlimited data so she uses Binge On to watch Netflix and has no issues at all. No buffering and video quality is **** good. Holly is trying to be some investigative reporter, hardly, he is looking to make noise about something he doesn't have the facts. What a clown!
  • He's reporting what the EFF says. Go tell them how you know more than them.
  • . . . *sigh*. . . never mind.
  • Ok go read the article again. This issue is relevant only to people who have BingeOn enabled, regardless of whether the have Unlimited plans or not. Sent from the iMore App
  • No he's not reporting what the EFF SAYS, they haven't finished their investigation, that's a joke, investigation! Holly must have been shut down for a interview and has a major hair across his ***! When Binge On came out T-Mobile was up front saying it was being turned on by default. Works fantastic, my sister streams Netflix all day with a small data plan and loves it, video quality is pretty **** good! I have unlimited data plan so I checked out the first day it went live. Most of the complaining is coming from people who aren't even T-Mobile customers, just Trolls looking to troll. T-Mobile has changed the Mobile Industry, if not for T-Mobile under the leadership of John Legere the Mobile Industry would be stuck in reverse. Thank You T-Mobile, Thank You John Legere.