Just a day after announcing the expansion of its Binge On program, T-Mobile may need to consider rolling it back. According to a Stanford University study, the contentious perk for certain Un-carrier subscribers is “likely illegal.” Citing crucial net neutrality rules, Barbara van Schewick, a net neutrality expert and Stanford law professor who penned the study, accused Binge On of limiting user choice, distorting competition, stifling innovation, and harming free speech. “If more ISPs offer similar programs, these harms will only grow worse,” is the damning conclusion.
The study is the latest in a string of bad PR T-Mobile has braved since launching the program three months ago. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and a number of journalists have also raised concerns about the fairness of the program, but the Stanford study may be the most forthcoming to date about the legality of Binge On. The program, which indeed seems popular among its users (T-Mobile reports that customers are watching “more than twice as many hours per day from free services than before”), basically allows users with at least a 3GB data plan to stream video from a growing list of providers for free (or at least, without affecting their data usage). And while that seems like a great perk, it’s really landing John Legere’s company in some hot water.
“Binge On violates key net neutrality principles that the Open Internet rules are designed to protect and creates harms to Internet openness that the general conduct rule is meant to prevent,” von Schewick writes. “Taken together, it is likely that Binge On violates the general conduct rule and is therefore illegal.”
While T-Mobile will doubtless defend to its last breath the legitimacy of its program, critics continue to cast a pall over the carrier’s grand plans. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is investigating the “zero rating” practices employed by Binge On, and with the evidence von Shewick presents, courts may be swayed to make a not so favorable decision.
So binge while you can — who knows if it’ll last?