T-Mobile announced T-Mobile One on Thursday, its new plan that offers 4G LTE unlimited data. It will be the only plan offered by T-Mobile moving forward. It’s extremely appealing on the surface, allowing folks to access its fastest data network without worrying about overages or throttling (up to 26GB, at least). It also sets a dangerous precedent for the industry, flirting with ignoring the very spirit of net neutrality – that there should be no gate-keepers to the internet.
Net neutrality, at its core, is the idea that services and data online shouldn’t be inhibited by the service provider. An internet provider, whether mobile or broadband, shouldn’t be able to say whether or not its customers can access Netflix in favor of Hulu. The Open Internet rules protect consumers and prohibit companies from blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.
“A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management,” the Open Internet rules state.
T-Mobile is degrading HD content but likely in order to provide a better experience for all customers, therefore covered under the “reasonable network management” part of that rule. That’s how it also gets away with throttling its most aggressive data users – a practice AT&T and Verizon use, too.
Like me, other industry-watchers and the FCC are worried that Internet providers won’t activate plans like this simply to keep their networks optimal for other subscribers, but rather to charge customers to access the full capabilities of their networks. Can you imagine how obscene this rule would be if, for example, Time Warner tried to implement it?
This is, as the FCC said, one of the many reasons that Net Neutrality laws exist: “The record on remand continues to convince us that broadband providers—including mobile broadband providers—have the incentives and ability to engage in practices that pose a threat to Internet openness, and as such, rules to protect the open nature of the Internet remain necessary.”
Here’s a look at one such incentive T-Mobile has to throttling its customers:
If a customer wants to really use the LTE network he or she is already paying for, he or she needs to pay $25 more per month to do so. The potential for new revenue generated by the demand for better content is the very incentive that the FCC is trying to protect us from. It also doesn’t push T-Mobile to better its network in order to offer everyone HD content as standard.
“Novel, improved, or lower-cost offerings introduced by content, application, service, and device providers spur enduser demand and encourage broadband providers to expand their networks and invest in new broadband technologies,” the FCC said back in 2011. “Streaming video and e-commerce applications, for instance, have led to major network improvements such as fiber to the premises, VDSL, and DOCSIS 3.0. These network improvements generate new opportunities for edge providers, spurring them to innovate further.” If T-Mobile can charge customers for HD content, what incentive does it have to build out its network to support them?
As I’ve argued in the past, I’m not sure T-Mobile is being nefarious with these plans. I think Legere is a smart business man. T-Mobile One is certainly appealing, and I don’t think many customers actually care. But it’s worrisome in an industry where other carriers tend to copy T-Mobile’s moves that we’re allowing this to happen. If we’re not careful, we’ll all be coughing up monthly fees for new “HD music streaming” and “HD video” support nickle-and-dimed left and right in the name of “unlimited data.”
T-Mobile’s Legere has said time and time again that he has the best network, so I urge him to back up those claims by allowing customers to access its full potential, not by charging them $25 to do so.
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