from the a-duck-is-still-a-duck dept For a while now we’ve warned how “zero rating” (letting some content bypass usage caps) is a creative way for ISPs to tap dance around net neutrality –potentially to public applause. Comcast, for example, exempts its creatively-named “Stream” streaming video service from caps, but claims this doesn’t violate net neutrality because the traffic never technically leaves Comcast’s network. Verizon exempts its own Go90 video service from caps as well, and to date doesn’t even bother justifying the move. Both AT&T and Verizon let companies pay for cap exemption.
And while these programs all laugh in the face of neutrality, many users still tend to applaud the horrible precedent because they believe — despite paying an arm and a leg for wireless data — that they’re getting something for free.
T-Mobile has been perhaps the most creative in exploiting this belief and implementing zero rating, now exempting some 90 video services from user usage caps and throttling these services to 1.5 Mbps (or 480p) unless a user opts out. But neutrality advocates have repeatedly noted this idea still violates net neutrality given that thousands of startups, educational orgs, and non profits still aren’t whitelisted — and may not even realize they’re being discriminated against.
And while T-Mobile has done some great things for consumers the last few years, T-Mobile’s response to these concerns has been relatively pathetic, vacillating between lying about how the program works, to insulting net neutrality supporters like the EFF. Yet because many in the public don’t understand the horrible precedent and just think it’s really groovy they’re getting free stuff — T-Mobile’s Binge On, happily lives on.
But a new study out of Northeastern University doesn’t have much nice to say about T-Mobile’s “consumer friendly” zero rating program. The researchers found numerous problems with Binge On, including the fact that T-Mobile’s promise of 480p video quality is consistently less:
“T-Mobile says that the resolution for Binge On streaming is 480p (progressive scan) or better, which is considered standard for DVD movies. However, the researchers did not find evidence to back up these claims. In their trials using YouTube, the resolution was only 360p, noticeably blurry on a modern smartphone.
They also found that T-Mobile’s systems not only had trouble accurately detecting video services:
“T-Mobile’s detection methods are very simple, so there’s no way they can always be right,” he says. “That means that Binge On is likely slowing down traffic that is not video. This raises serious concerns about compliance with the Open Internet Order.”
And they found that the system was manipulable by clever T-Mobile users, potentially allowing them to zero rate services not covered by the program:
“Those simple methods open the door to exploitation as well, allowing subscribers to get free data even for non-video content. The researchers developed simple software that manipulates internet traffic so that it looks like video. For example, it makes any web content—web pages, app downloads, and photos—look like YouTube traffic. “We realized we…