Rumor Mill: T-Mobile's 'Uncarrier 10' plan to let customers stream Netflix, HBO without chewing through data

T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) plans to let customers use unlimited high-speed data for watching certain streaming video services, and presumably not have that usage count toward their LTE data bucket, according to reputable mobile news leaker Evan Blass, also known as @evleaks.

"T-Mobile's Uncarrier 10 to offer unlimited high speed data for watching select streaming video services like Netflix, HBO, etc.," Blass said on Twitter. Blass later added that after speaking with another source, "this seems to actually just allow unlimited video on 4G without making you churn through LTE data first."

"There are always rumors ahead of our Un-carrier events and it's part of the fun -- we love it!" Janice Kapner, T-Mobile's senior vice president of corporate communications, said in a statement to FierceWireless.  "We can't wait to shake up the wireless industry, yet again, with Un-carrier X on November 10th -- stay tuned!"

T-Mobile has sent out invitations for its "Uncarrier X" or Uncarrier 10 event on Nov. 10. The event will take place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, a classic Hollywood venue that was the long-time home of the Oscars ceremony. The location has led to speculation that the event will be focused on video or entertainment.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere gave only a few hints about the event earlier this week during the carrier's third-quarter earnings conference call. "We've been very protective of the Uncarrier being something that solves pain points, and frankly we've been very protective because there is been at least one or two moves lately where people have said you guys running out of steam," because there are fewer pain points, he said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

"I can tell you that this one is solidly in the zone of when we created the idea. I even said this thing gigantic, can we really do that? And I can't wait to announce," Legere added. "So it's not only one of those ones that I think our competitors are absolutely going to piss their pants on. I mean it's really going to -- if they're not worried, they should really worry, because they've got till November 10th to really be in trouble."

It's unclear if or how the new "uncarrier" move would compare to T-Mobile's "Music Freedom" program, which exempts streaming music services from counting toward T-Mobile customers' data buckets. When the service first started in June 2014, it included only six streaming music offerings. It now includes 33, including all of the most popular ones.

It's also unclear how an offering that exempts some streaming video services from counting against customers' data usage but not others would fare under the FCC's net neutrality rules.

In addition to bans on blocking content, throttling content and paid prioritization, the regulations also address a "no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage standard." The standard is designed to protect the ability of consumers and content providers to use the Internet and connect to each other without being unreasonably interfered with or disadvantaged. This is the standard the FCC will use to judge whether future practices of broadband providers, such as zero-rating or sponsored data plans, should be allowed.

Roger Sherman, chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, said in February when the rules were adopted that the FCC does not take an opinion on existing plans that use zero-rating, such as Music Freedom plan. "There are positive aspects about programs like zero-rated and there are some areas of concern," Sherman said. He said it "would be premature" to say whether certain future plans would be allowed or not.

However, the FCC has laid out several factors it will consider in determining whether a practice meets the standard. Those include whether the new plans "empower meaningful consumer choice;" the effects the plans will have on market competition, whether consumers are protected; the plans' effect on innovation, investment and broadband deployment; whether the plans threaten free expression; whether the practices are "application agnostic" and unreasonably harm content providers; and whether the plans conform to best practices as set by industry standards.

Carriers do not have to go the FCC and ask permission every time they want to introduce a new offering or mobile broadband plan, but they can go to the agency to get an "advisory opinion" on whether a new proposed mobile data business plan meets the standard, and customers can file complaints.

Since T-Mobile's Music Freedom plan is inclusive and supports numerous streaming music services, and since T-Mobile does not receive compensation from any company for not counting music streaming traffic against customers' data limits, such a plan is considered fine by the FCC, since it benefits consumers. However, if a zero-rating plan were exclusive to one company that offers a particular type of service, that likely would draw more scrutiny from the FCC.

For more:
- see this EVLeaks post
- see this The Verge article 
- see this TMoNews article 

Related articles:
T-Mobile now expects to add 3.8-4.2M postpaid subs in 2015, hits 300M POPs with LTE coverage
T-Mobile: Throttling policy for unlimited customers who hit 21 GB is OK under net neutrality
Net neutrality rules won't force carriers to get FCC permission for new plans, officials say
FCC approves net neutrality rules for wireless, putting future zero-rating plans on notice
T-Mobile, CTIA urge FCC to preserve zero-rating, give carriers flexibility under net neutrality
T-Mobile adds 6 services to Music Freedom, has streamed 7,000 terabytes of music since launch

Article updated Oct. 30 at 7:30 a.m. ET with a statement from T-Mobile