EFF: T-Mobile's Binge On really is throttling video

The process T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) uses to "optimize" streaming video for its Binge On offering is really just throttling the speed at which the content is delivered, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. And that throttling is applied to all HTML5 video streams, the organization claims, even when the phone is capable of downloading at higher speeds.

The nonprofit organization conducted several tests on a Binge On-enabled phone using T-Mobile's LTE network, and determined that when the service is turned on the carrier slows video streaming speeds to roughly 1.5 Mbps, substantially slower than when Binge On is not enabled. The throttling occurs regardless of whether the video provider is enrolled in the Binge On program, according to the EFF, and T-Mobile's "optimization" doesn't actually alter or enhance the video stream for mobile handsets or networks.

"This means T-Mobile's 'optimization' consists entirely of throttling the video stream's throughput down to 1.5 Mbps," the EFF wrote. "If the video is more than 480p and the server sending the video doesn't have a way to reduce or adapt the bitrate of the video as it's being streamed, the result is stuttering and uneven streaming -- exactly the opposite of the experience T-Mobile claims their 'optimization' will have."

T-Mobile has said that Binge On provides zero-rated video content from specific providers, enabling users to stream or download video on the network without incurring data charges. YouTube -- which isn't part of the Binge On program -- recently complained that the carrier was throttling its video content when accessed by users with Binge On accounts. T-Mobile has denied slowing transmission speeds, but conceded that it does downgrade the video quality when Binge On is enabled.

"Even the term 'downgrading' is inaccurate," according to the EFF, "because that would mean video streams are simply being given a lower priority than other traffic. If that were true, then in the absence of higher priority traffic, videos should stream at the same throughput as any other content. But that's not the case: our tests show that video streams are capped at around 1.5 Mbps, even when the LTE connection and the reset of T-Mobile's network can support higher throughput between the customer and the server.

"In other words, our results show that T-Mobile is throttling video streams, plain and simple."

T-Mobile representatives were not immediately available for comment.

For more:
- see this EFF blog post

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