T-Mobile's often-outspoken CEO John Legere’s latest defense of the company's Binge On mobile data plans was uncharacteristically conciliatory for a leader whose unfiltered approach to public relations has become synonymous with the T-Mobile brand.
T-Mobile advertises that its Binge On data plans allow for unlimited streaming of video content from partner sites without counting toward customers' data limits, which can incur significant service slowdowns. Users with Binge On enabled will be able to watch optimized, "DVD-quality" video streams, the company says, but will be unable to access higher-quality video content via their cellphone connection.
But on Jan. 4, digital-rights group The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) alleged that, rather than optimizing video streams for its partners, the Binge On plan amounts to wholesale throttling of all online video traffic, regardless of origin, resulting in stuttering and uneven streaming for users trying to access high-quality videos.
After a week of controversial, strongly-worded blog posts and videos defending the feature, Mr. Legere published a post Monday striking a different tone. The CEO sought to clarify information on the Binge On feature, but also offered an apology to the EFF over previous, off-color remarks.
“I will however apologize for offending EFF and its supporters,” T-Mobile John Legere said in a blog post. “Just because we don’t completely agree on all aspects of Binge On doesn’t mean I don’t see how they fight for consumers.”
Previously on Jan. 7, in response to an inquiry from the EFF over how the Binge On feature detected video files, Legere asked the company via video on Twitter, “who ... are you, anyway, EFF? Why are you stirring up so much trouble? And who pays you?”
“Most video streams come in at incredibly high resolution rates that are barely detectable by the human eye on small device screens and this is where the data in plans is wasted,” Legere said in his blog post.
By allowing any video provider to become a Binge On partner, the company attempts to comply with net neutrality guidelines that maintain certain video providers or websites cannot be favored over others. Customers are also allowed to turn off Binge On in their phone settings, giving them the final choice.
But the EFF maintains that T-Mobile is able to detect even disguised video files and that T-Mobile’s method of "optimization" does not actually optimize video streaming.
“[O]ur results show that T-Mobile is throttling video streams, plain and simple,” the EFF concluded.
The EFF allegations follow December allegations from Google over YouTube traffic being hampered by T-Mobile throttling data speed to video streaming. The Internet Association, an advocacy group that includes Google as a member, told The Washington Post the Binge On feature “appears to involve throttling of all video traffic, across all data plans, regardless of network congestion.”
Legere has maintained his support for Binge On and its compliance with net neutrality. “T-Mobile is a company that absolutely supports Net Neutrality and we believe in an open and free Internet,” the CEO stated in his latest blog post.
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler supported T-Mobile’s Binge On feature in November, but said the FCC was still looking into it.
"It's clear in the open Internet order that we said we are pro-competition and pro-innovation. Clearly, this meets both of those criteria. It's highly innovative and highly competitive," Mr. Wheeler said at the November Open Commission Meeting.