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No free lunch in the Netherlands — T-Mobile ordered to stop free music streaming

You won’t be getting any free music this holiday season — at least, not from T-Mobile if you live in the Netherlands. On Friday, the Dutch Consumer and Markets regulator ordered T-Mobile to cease providing a streaming music product that does not count toward its customers’ data usage. You might know it in the U.S. as the Un-carrier’s Binge On program, but the Dutch now know it as illegal.

As per the Dutch regulatory body, the “zero rating” practice employed by T-Mobile in this case violates Dutch net neutrality rules, as it places other competitive services (think Pandora and Spotify) at a distinct disadvantage. “Dutch law is clear about zero rating: it is not allowed,” Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets board member Henk Don said in a statement. “That is why ACM is taking action … There is no such thing as free data: it causes other services to become more expensive.”

Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Mobile Netherlands initially introduced the “free” music streaming service on October 10, but now, it must deprive customers of the offering, or pay a hefty fine of $52,000 every day. 

Net neutrality laws, and in particular zero ratings, have become particularly contentious in Europe, as various telecommunications companies and mobile service providers look for creative ways to differentiate themselves from competitors and get more customers. While the Netherlands has laws that expressly forbid zero-rating practices on the grounds of net neutrality, this isn’t the case across the European Union.

Dutch Consumer and Markets regulator noted that it fully expected T-Mobile to stage a legal battle in defense of its offerings. In a press release issued later on Friday, T-Mobile Netherlands noted that while it was unsurprised by the new mandate, it would indeed appeal the decision. Moreover, the service provider will continue offering its free music service until a verdict has been reached.