YouTube is unhappy about T-Mobile throttling video data

by: Robert TriggsDecember 23, 2015

T-Mobile logo Shutterstock

T-Mobile recently launched its “Binge On” unlimited video streaming promotion, which allows customers to stream video content from a number of popular services without eating into their data allowance. The trade-off is that T-Mobile limits the quality of videos that users can stream from services within the program to save on bandwidth. However, YouTube and other companies are now complaining that video quality is being lowered outside of the program as well.

Unlike services from Hulu, Netflix, HBO Go, and others, YouTube videos aren’t part of T-Mobile’s Binge One program and therefore still count towards data consumed. However, users are still apparently seeing video quality reduced by default. The only way that customers can restore full quality videos appears to be to shut off Binge On through their account settings.

“Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent,”– YouTube spokesman

“T-Mobile’s new ‘streaming optimization’ program appears to involve throttling of all video traffic, across all data plans, regardless of network congestion,” – Internet Association

This could raise a new issue for federal regulators, as the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules are designed to prevent internet providers from offering different tiers of service to different websites. Some consumer advocate groups are worried that data throttling could be an attempt to circumvent these rules, but T-Mobile argues that its program is in line with the regulations.

T-Mobile-G1-first-impressions-aa-3-of-13See also: T-Mobile will let its customers stream Netflix, Hulu and more for free28

T-Mobile has not officially commented on the case, but CEO John Legere reiterated that customers can turn the throttling feature on and off at will. In addition, the FCC has recently sent letters out to T-Mobile, Comcast and AT&T to gather additional information about their latest services. There isn’t a formal investigation underway, yet, but this probably isn’t the last we will hear about mobile data throttling.

  • Amadeus Klein

    Not sure what all this is about… I have T-mobile and BingeOn and my YouTube app let’s me select whatever quality I want. It is defaulted to 1080… not sure what the fuss is about…

    • PlanetVaster

      I have T-mobile too, BingeOn makes most video go to “DVD Quality” (about 480p) but you might not notice it. Youtube is mad because their video still counts against data but is still downgraded to 480p (you might not notice it, the youtube app will still say 1080p as it doesn’t know t-mo’s cell towers downgraded the video to 480p)

      • Amadeus Klein

        To see if that’s the case I did a test in 1080p on WiFi with a 300Mbps connection with binge on off and BingeOn on while on lte… on my s6 edge plus there is no difference in quality that I see visually… perhaps this isn’t a nationwide issue? I’m in Ohio so perhaps that makes a difference… when I get to my office later I’ll run some bandwidth tests to see how much each mode takes bandwidth…

        • PlanetVaster

          Like I said you might not notice a difference, and also I said “most” videos so it may not go to 480p on all it might go to 1080p on some videos, also nice I live in Ohio too, I live in the Cincinnati area.

      • Alex Ohannes

        I don’t quite believe that (I’n not trying to call you a liar, I’m just saying that your info sounds faulty). If Opera Max is unable to do it, then how is T-Mobile able to do it? Opera Max can only throttle the overall data speed when playing a YouTube video thus “forcing” it to select a lower bitrate, and therefore you can select 1080p and wait around nearly an hour for it to buffer if you so choose. This is due to technological “limitations (I put that in quotes as it could theoretically be a plus for security) in YouTube, so how is T-Mobile magically able to get around it?

        • PlanetVaster

          Because T-mobile does it before the data reaches your phone (probably on the cell towers), look it up if you want. Its like the difference between a chrome extension and a server side plugin. Also I tried opera max and I can’t use it because of a bug with KitKat :(

  • PlanetVaster

    I think YouTube should either ask to join BingeOn and get their video not counting against data, or fuck off.

    • yankeesusa

      If you would read and look up info before talking junk then you would know that since binge on was announced tmobile and google have been in talks and are trying to work out some technical issues. In the meantime youtube or other video services not part of the program should not be affected, but they are. A little research goes a long way.

      • PlanetVaster

        I already knew that, thanks for wasting my time with your comment. But if they’re going to join then they shouldn’t complain about it right now.

        • Christoph Brinkmann

          Maybe if you didn’t want yankeesusa to “waste your time” then you should’ve specified that you were already aware of the talks the two companies were having. Ya know, instead of just making a flippant comment about the issue. This may come as a shock to you, but we can’t read minds, and ignorance on the internet’s nothing new, so it was perfectly reasonable to assume that you knew nothing about what was going on yet decided to comment on it anyway. Your follow up comment doesn’t exactly exude a whole lot of confidence that you are knowledgeable about the subject, either.

          The fact that Youtube should not be affected by this, yet is anyway shows that there are problems with the service, yet you seem to be perfectly fine with them just jumping on anyway. If you were about to board a plane and you saw a gigantic crack along the wing, but the airline’s attitude was “Yeah, it’s broken, so what? Get on or shut your mouth” you’d be well within your rights to ask for a refund.

    • Boonlumsion Piyapon

      the point is, by not include this information in there ads t-mobile might face false advertising or violate net-neutrality.

      • PlanetVaster

        No there’s this thing called reading the fine print, all the other carriers have added tons of fees that way. And it’s not false advertising it’s just not giving all the information.

      • SamsaraGuru

        Technically, you are probably right if the FTC wanted to spend time splitting hairs, but given it is part of a program subscribers can opt in or out of if they see an advantage in it, and the goal was not to deliberately as far as I am able to tell – and you have pointed out – to exclude YouTube it seems like this “problem” will solve itself once the technical issues between T Mobile and Google are worked out.

        The real problem would be if he government decided to stick its big nose even further into regulating the internet. If you want to screw something up, let he government into it.

  • bob

    Considering most people can’t tell the difference in picture quality anyways… If something looks that bad at 480p, it was probably upscaled to that, and upscaling affects picture quality. But to see people buy small screen devices with 4K resolutions is laughable, because at that size no one can humanly see the detail down to that level.

    • Alex Ohannes

      Sure they can. If you disagree, then you’ve never tried it. Now, granted, it does require holding your phone closer to your face, but that certainly doesn’t make it “impossible to notice the difference”. I keep remembering when everyone was saying exactly what you said about displays with 320 or so PPI. Then 2K displays came out, and on larger phones, a clear difference could be seen by people with good eyes, even in normal usage. Yes, I agree that this is not yet the time for a 4K smartphone, but that time will come someday soon, and I will welcome it with open arms.

      • Still bob

        Fine. Look like a jack ass with your phone 4″ from your face. I’ll just point, laugh, and carry on with my life not attached to digital visual stimulation.

  • sans

    Curious, I wonder if this is deliberate or an accident caused by how BingeOn works through T-Mobile’s towers? I’d hope it’s just a technical issue that needs to be worked out, I’d hate to see T-Mobile go as of so low.

  • SamsaraGuru

    Is the play quality of the Binge program videos good? Seems to me that unless you are talking large tablets where the reduced resolution would be more noticeable that this is a reasonable tradeoff for the freedom it gives. I personally have little interest in watching movies, etc. when I am out and about, but it does go to show that T-Mobile is still working to come up with innovative add on services.