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T-Mobile changes controversial data plan, adds free YouTube streaming

Google and YouTube have joined the controversial T-Mobile data plan they once accused of throttling video data. The change in stance occurred as T-Mobile made several changes to the plan.

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    The logo of T-Mobile Austria is seen outside of one of its shops in Viennaa, Austria (Feb. 25, 2016). YouTube recently joined T-Mobile's Binge-On program.
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T-Mobile’s Binge On cellular data plan offered customers a trade: streaming video from select services won’t count against data caps but quality of the video would be limited.

The simple-sounding plan caused outrage from net-neutrality activists, angry CEO Twitter rants, and allegations that T-Mobile's plan amounted to unfair data throttling.

On Thursday, T-Mobile announced YouTube and Google Play Movies would be available on its data plan, among other partners and updates. Google's video giant was previously one of Binge On's most vocal critics. The partnership could signal calmer times for T-Mobile ahead.

What made Google change its stance?

In December 2015, YouTube accused T-Mobile of throttling data and violating  rules put in place by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), The Christian Science Monitor reported. The video streaming service’s complaints were based around two points: T-Mobile was throttling all video data, regardless of where it came from, and it was interfering with customers’ ability to access video services.

T-Mobile has addressed those issues, according to Google.

In a blogpost, Google explains that they agreed to partner with the Binge On program because of improvement to the service that suitably addressed their original concerns.

For customers: T-Mobile has increased the amount of information on what the Binge On service does and made it easier to turn off. Instead of searching through the settings menu on their phones, customers can now turn the plan off by texting an SMS code and clicking two buttons on the T-Mobile app.

For video service providers: T-Mobile now allows video providers to opt-out of the program, leaving their video data untouched. And for services that agree to partner, there is more control over how their video data is managed.

Do those changes mean the era of controversy for Binge On is over? Not quite yet.

The requirement that users opt out of the Binge On service is still a problem for some opponents of the practice.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital-rights group, highlighted the issue in their proposed solution in January.

The EFF explained that stopping throttling of all video streaming services who haven’t partnered with Binge On would be a start, “but the best option would be to make Binge On opt-in (instead of opt-out),” which would ensure customers were actively consenting to using the service.

But it’s unlikely T-Mobile is feeling any further pressure to change. The company has faced no resistance from the FCC and it seems confident that won't change in the future. “Binge On has always been compliant with net-neutrality rules. Our decision to make the opt-out available to all video-streaming partners was a business decision, not a legal one,” a T-Mobile spokesperson told The Christian Science Monitor by email.

And controversy hasn't dissuaded Binge On users, according to T-Mobile. 

Customers are watching twice as much video, millions of gigabytes have been streamed at no cost, and video streaming partners have reported boosts in viewership, according to a T-Mobile press release.

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