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 tech nerd who chases the best of everything, from phones to game consoles to laptops and everything glowing or beeping. He's the Managing Editor of gaming content for Mobile Nations and can be found contributing to all of the Mobile Nations sites. Reach out on Twitter!

113 Comments
  • That is quite scummy... And to think I switched to them to actually get high speeds over what MVNOs were getting me.
  • It's all about money
  • They like to play their little un-carrier game, but it reality they are a carrier and big company like the rest.
  • Talk about a plot twist! Their speeds are high, but I guess this goes to show that it depends on what you are using it for.
  • Damn no 4k YouTube videos??
  • Have you tried Straight Talk? $45 a month for unlimited calls and texts, and 5gbs of high speed data. Can choose what network you want to be on--I use att's network.
  • Sounds like a commercial.
  • Doesn't seem scummy to me since its optional. Nobody has to use Binge and if a customer doesn't use Binge they have what they always had.
  • And if they you binge their nonbinge videos are throttled.. how doesnt that sound scummy.. not to talk about letting services pay you to stream their bloody service of the volume basis with a two class internet.. soon all the strong revenue services will be excluded in your volume packets and new entries can not find an audience because people would need to stream their services for a coast.. great way of managing the internet, right
  • Idk but something is going on with tmobile. After reading this article I noticed I was on a website and the video player wasn't showing in my browser. I tried everything, clearing cache, switching from mobile to desktop, closing and restart. Then it clicked, maybe its the network. I turned on my WiFi pressed reload and suddenly the video player popped up! That's very suspicious.
  • its free for any service to join. though i guess it does depend on the technical requirements since they're not completely upfront (all they've mentioned is that the service needs to make it possible to differentiate between video and non-video traffic from the site). however, they are simply not being charged to be part of this. so its not revenue related as you are suggesting.
  • It's scummy since I didn't realize I opted into Binge On by default - I have unlimited data so it makes no sense to enable it. All five phones on my account were opted in by default and if it weren't for this article, I would'nt have noticed thus continually blaming the spotty coverage as the reason why I'm not getting the best video quality.
  • Fortunately you can turn off BingeOn, and you will be unthrottled. I honestly think that this was a dumb implementation on top of a good idea. I have been very happy since switching to T-Mobile, even with this snafu.
  • I left AT&T for Cricket because AT&T's prices are borderline price gouging.  But at least I know what AT&T is up to.  T-Mobile is going behind everyone's back by throttling video and calling it "optimized."  The service flat out doesn't work as advertised.  That's worse than high prices.  High prices I can avoid.  It's harder to avoid being lied to.
  • I wound up on Cricket too because all of the major carriers are generally untrustworthy. While Cricket has its problems, I'll take it any day over being lied to on something so big.
  • I'm seriously considering switching from T-Mobile to Cricket this year. What would you say are Cricket's problems?
  • The problems are minor. The LTE is slightly slower than on regular carriers. Also, if you are a little "late", they try to tack on a small fee ($6) and you have to call them to get it taken off. It's a sneaky way of trying to get extra money from people, however, the thing about prepaid is that you are supposed to be paying ahead of time for what you plan to use and them tacking on fees for not prepaying is a very gray area since its a different system from standard carriers. They bank on people just paying the fee without asking questions. Still, not that big a deal and better than being locked into a contract.
  • They're stupid about tethering / WiFi hotspots.  They claim it will only work on a very limited number of phones and can refuse to activate it if you don't have your SIM in one of those models at the time you add tethering to your account.  In most cases, once provisioned, it works fine in other unsurported handsets. The same goes for Visual Voicemail.  If you have the SIM in a "supported" phone and activate the feature, it will often work in other phones as well.  This is the only way to get Visual Voicemail to work on non-cricket phones that do support the feature.  I don't know why they aren't more helpful in letting people BYOD to their network.  It would at least be helpful if you could go in store with your handset and "try it and see if it works".  But alas...
  • Funny, I'm thinking about switching from Cricket to T-Mobile. Cricket has been great. The only thing that gets to me is the 8mbps data speed cap. 90% of the time I don't notice it, but that 10% of the time when I want to watch youtube, it can have problems playing youtube vidoes at the quality I prefer. Of course, after reading this. Maybe I'll just stick it out with Cricket. The only reason I am considering switching to T-Mobile is that with my employer discount, I can get the same plan as I have with Cricket for a couple dollars more without the speed cap. If Cricket is going to be saving you money, I wouldn't hesitate in recommeding it at all. The couple times I have had to deal with customer service, they have been quick and helpful. Also, no tethering or visual voicemail unless you have one of Cricket's phones. The no tethering kind of bugs me too. VVM is easily fixed with youmail.
  • Well untill can offload all calling traffic to Wi-Fi/hspa id assume they just dont have enough available capacity to handle lte in overpopulated areas. So 1 has to wonder what they do with profits if it isn't going back into infrastructure(upgrades/expansions)
  • Legere recently bought a fancy new penthouse in NYC. 
  • If you left AT&T for Cricket, SURPRISE!!, you're still with AT&T. Check the fine print
  • If you left AT&T for Cricket, SURPRISE!!, you're still with AT&T. Check the fine print
  • and that's actually a plus.  A very robust network with a wide coverage area for less than T-Mobile.  I'll take it.
  • I was about to say that too =). Better coverage, more data, for less price... I signed up for that! 2.5 GB, unlimited calls/texts to US, $35 a month because it autopays. Great deal =).
  • Cheaper? On T-Mobile i have four family members with 10gb EACH of lte and its only 160 after taxes. That's 40 per line for 10gb!
  • 5 10GB lines on Cricket would come to $200, or 40 per line for 10GB, plus ATTs much superior network and coverage area included at no extra cost. Also all taxes and fees included, so that gives additional savings. and this price is available every day, unlike the limited time promotion you had to take advantage of to get that rate from T-Mobile.
  • It's not a secret that ATT owns Cricket but being able to buy an ATT-branded phone and use it on Cricket for a flat fee is nice and the coverage is good. The nice thing about prepaid is that you can easily swap your phone or drop the service if it's unsatisfactory.
  • hmmmmm so I can use my 950 on cricket???
  • You should be able to. Every ATT branded phone I've ever bought, from the 920 to the 640, has worked. I believe they have a thing on their site where you can plug in your imei and see if it will work.
  • ladydias is right. When you go to sign up for Cricket, they will have you input your IMEI number and will tell you if your phone is compatible.
  • You can easily swap your phone or drop service on T-mobile, too. Plus, it's post-paid.
  • lol AT&T IS cricket, and wher I am it's a $5 difference.
  • I switched to GoPhone which is much better
  • That's ATT also
  • Not so bad compared to the mess that is googles webm
  • I'm lost. The commercial says 480p in not so tiny print and beyond that, people are complaining about FREE streaming? Besides the fact that you can opt out of BingeOn. Hmm. Even if they didn't say 480p right in their commercial, what did people really expect? Free, unlimited, 1440p video streaming? Come on. Posted via the Note 4/Nexus 7 (2013)/Lumia 1020/Lumia 2520
  • They aren't complaining about free streaming or 480p, they are complaining because if your service is on, its throttling EVERYTHING regardless of whether its part of their streaming partnership agreement or not... That can then make some services unusable at that speed...
  • No the article does not say that they are throttling everything it says that they are throttling all video traffic if BingeOn is enabled.
  • Seriously? That's what hes talking about. They are only supposed to throttle/limit video from there partners, but instead T-Mobile is throttling video from all sources and then lying by claiming they are "optimizing video". But its not optimization of files, its throttling bandwidth. So they are limiting the bandwidth for video that counts against your data, even though you pay for that.
  • Did you read the article? They're throttling all web traffic if BingeOn is turned on. There is no reasonable expectation that they'd throttle all of your traffic.
  • No the article says that they are throttling all video traffic if BingeOn is enabled. (Even non-streaming video.)
  • Lol all the good videos on yt are 360p & below
  • Did you even read the article? They are upset that services that ARENT apart of BingeOn are also being throttled, like YouTube.
  • I'm sure blacklac is in the same boat as I am. Throttling, videos streaming at 480p are terms people use, but I don't know what they mean. Is throttling or 480p bad? I don't know. I read the whole article, and I'm sure blacklac did to, but why is that bad if it's all written in the agreements. I can turn a service on and watch videos for free, without it effecting my data. Or watch a high quality video but it will count against me. What am I missing?
  • Apparently what you are missing is that T-Mobile lowers your max data rate (throttling) if you have BingeOn turned on. While the rate is adequate for the 'low res' (480p) BingeOn partners, it may well be insufficient for "hi-res" video (You-Tube). So potentially you would get poor performance, buffering, frame drops, when trying to watch a high res video from You-tube if you have Binge-on turned on, while it still counts against your data allotment.  That would drive you to Binge-on partners, as they seemingly perform better, disadvantaging non-partners.
  • Edit, reading error on my part. Posted via the Note 4/Nexus 7 (2013)/Lumia 1020/Lumia 2520
  • Pretty much this. I just don't understand the issue. It's Binge On at work. Don't like it? Turn it off.
  • Simple they are throttling all sources even ones that are not part of binge on like youtube so even though you are paying for the data they are making youtube unusable try to stream it will keep buffering
  • And? That's what Binge On is supposed to do for non-whitelisted sources...
  • No, it isn't. Non-partners should not be being throttled. And BingeOn is turned on by default, so you have to opt *out* to get any video to stream over 480p without buffering. Their messaging around this is being handled poorly, and their technical implementation is problematic; they need to fix this.
  • T-Mobile said since day one that you'd be able to watch up to 3x more video from non-partnered sources, no? Looks like that's exactly what's happening to YouTube.
  • no, 3x more video when not on 4G.
  • Where'd you hear that? Data type doesn't matter.
  • nevermind. i'm confusing it with music freedom. edit: or am i reading into this too much: "Stream unlimited music on your phone or tablet without burning your 4G LTE data"
  • That is NOT what bingeon is supposed to do. BingrOn is only supposed to give you low resolution videos (480p) from partner sites which won't count against your data. It's NOT supposed to throttle bandwidth if you get video from other sources which does count against your data.
  • Basically, it (afaik) means if you use data for theoretical 1080p, you are burning your money for 480p unconditionally.
  • US Carrier trolling their users! Omg I'm not surprise at all.
  • But just watch as the lemming like carrier lovers defend them to their last breath...
  • I swear that they said having "Binge ON" enabled would allow you to watch 3 times as much video even for non-partner sites. So I guess they assume that most video streams at 4.5mbps, so throttling it at 1.5mpbs gets you to that point. So this is probably why they say 480P+ since depending on encoding you can get much better than 480P quality at 1.5mbps. In all I am OK with that, but they really should be more transparent about it.
  • It is right on their site, and if you call in they are up front. And they even tell you to turn it off if need be. It doesn't hurt them one bit if you choose to enable binge and get more video streaming or disable and eat through data they truly don't care
  • 3x more video when not on 4G (only 4G usage won't count towards your data, when you're not on 4G, bingeon isn't unlimited).
  • appears i'm mistaken here. i'm getting to hung up on their wording (plus getting confused with some terms from music freedom). this clearly seems to be stated on their site. i guess EFF just thinks throttling can't count as optimized. i find it to be semantics. if you're using a streaming service that automatically adjusts according to speed, then yes, you will get 3x more video with this tactic. if you're using a service that doesn't do this (re: youtube), then it'll cause issues. i guess that's the problem.
  • I've actually noticed this. YouTube constantly buffers and stops on my 4G, and I had no idea why. Makes sense now.
  • Only if you manually set it to hd
  • But if your paying for the data and if your using youtube your paying since it's not part of binge on you should be able to choose HD
  • So you turn it off and Walla you're back to what you have been doing. If you want free streaming deal with 480p, you don't want free streaming turn it off and watch hd till you run out of data like you always have. YOU HAVE THE CHOICE. What people can't read, comprehend, understand, lack an education, or simply the mental skill set to understand, is that binge is NOT about free streaming only. It is an entire package. A package that includes free streaming and helps conserve phone data by pushing the 480p+ through a theoretical throttle. If you dont like that, simply turn it off. TMO doesn't care what you choose. Seriously they don't. In fact you can turn it off, watch your hd and then turn it back on. But what they don't want to hear is some whiny adult who doesn't understand bitrate and moan about their data usage saying.....i only watch YouTube why is my 6GB gone in a week.
  • I'm glad T-mobile is out there to offer competition and to keep any carrier from holding us hostage. But I do think their marketing can be kind of funny.  Recently they have commercials that imply their large family data plans (like 40 gigs) are priced much lower than equivalent sized data plans on other carriers. However, their data plan is not "shared", but instead is say........ 10 gigs for each phone. But before you can contemplate for yourself that not sharing means you are likely not going to have all 40 gigs available to the family (grandma gets 10 "unshared" gigs) they cleverly state in the commercial "And you don't have to SHARE your 10 gigs with anybody!"    Like that is a GOOD thing. LOL      Way to play to our selfish nature T-mobile.       
  • It is very good, keep the data hogs away from my stash
  • I wish you could allot that data by user. I know my mom won't use even a gig per month, I go over my 2.5gb limit from time to time.
  • It's perfectly consistent with what they announced, and the notification i got as a T-Mo customer. They said all content would be optimized if BingeOn was enabled plus partner content wouldn't count against your data. I fail to see the problem. It's also really easy to turn off and the notification explained how to turn it off.
  • I am almost always going to use video where I have wifi so I nexer turned on BingeOn anyway, guess glad I didnt.
  • Doesn't matter, T-Mobile turned it on for you.  The service is opt-out, not opt-in.
  • Not if you're using wifi.  
  • There's no optimization going on. It's pure throttling. If they were actually taking HD content and reencoding it to use less data, they could get away with that, but what happens instead is you buffer like crazy if the video stream bitrate is too high. You don't even save any data that way, the service of non-partners who stream at higher than the allowed bitrate simply seems to suddenly get unreliable but will ultimately take exactly the same amount of data as it would've so you pay just as much for worse service and it's not at all apparent what's causing it. And it's turned on by default.
  • I'll stick to my Unlimited Sprint plan. One thing about Sprint is that they are consistent with pricing and the service itself. And in Miami Sprint is pretty snappy compared to what I see from other people on other carriers.
  • Unlimited but in my area doesn't matter since it's about 3g speeds anyway
  • Is it true that in US you cannot put any sim card you want in your phone?What are the limitations?
  • That's only for carrier locked phones. Verizon phones are carrier unlocked however you won't be able to get LTE speeds on HSPA.....I.e. Lumia Icon
  • It changed with cyan/denim it now fully works(@least on cdn networks)
  • Only locked phones. Most phones is the USA are subsidised, meaning you don't pay 700 for a S6 you pay say 50. And they for getting a phone so cheap you agree to a two year contract. Meaning they can claim profit in more than a single reporting period. While yes you may pay more, the up front cost is minimal and if you don't buy their phone your still paying the monthly rate. As a result the phone really isn't yours till you either buy full price or wait two yrs. Carriers have to unlock a phone if you meet the qualifications of it being yours. Which is easy. I have unlocked phones and you can swap sims like hot dates. Also this subsidised method means the usa has the most high end phones per capita, because we don't have to buy them full price up front
  • You pay $50 plus taxes on the $700 price. Then you pay off the phone in addition to your plan for the next two years. With interest.
    ​So no, you don't pay 50 for the phone. You actually pay more than what the $700 price would have been out right.
  • Only over time, what is cheaper up front...120$ for the 50+taxes....or.....770? Not to mention they will pay the exact price most the time whether they buy the phone and then get service or put it on contract? That is why the contract is powerful. If you are paying 100/month and then say buy your phone outright...you over two years will have paid nearly 3200. Now unless you plan to switch people don't care about two year contracts. So they pay the same 2400 but only 120 extra not 770 extra. Now some plans are cheaper if you buy the phones some are not. TMO was the first to get rid of the higher price per month and get rid of phone subsidies out of the major 4.
  • No surprise, T-Mobile has some very shady business prac