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These bad ideas should die at T-Mobile before they turn the internet into just another zone of total corporate control.
T-Mobile has just announced "Binge On," a deal that gives customers unlimited access to Netflix, HBO Go, ESPN, Showtime, and video from most other huge media brands (but not You Tube! It’s just like T-Mobile’s "Music Freedom" promotion, which gives customers unlimited high-speed data, as long as they’re listening to music from Spotify, Google Play Music, or one of T-Mobile’s other partners.That’s basically what’s happening here, except it’s more difficult to stop because, as the FCC might say, there’s "no obvious consumer harm" in giving people free stuff. This scheme is called "zero rating," and people like Susan Crawford have been warning us for a while about the risk it poses for the open internet.The only reason Binge On and Music Freedom sound like such a great pro-consumer deal is because the top four mobile ISPs — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile — have manufactured a market based completely on artificial scarcity.Worse, its spin as a pro-consumer benefit obscures the manipulation of the broadband market that’s happening right under our noses.John Legere even breathlessly talked trash about Verizon "curating" what people should watch under Go90, even though he’s basically doing the same thing with a different name.It’s not clear what those specifications are yet, though Legere used words like "optimized video" and "DVD quality or better." But that just sounds a lot like another type of managed network: cable television. To understand why free is a problem, we need to look at net neutrality in the context of the scarcity the ISPs have created.
"This is not a net neutrality problem," Legere insisted on stage today at his company’s Uncarrier X event. Consider T-Mobile and Sprint’s basic "unlimited" data plans: each technically include unlimited data, but only 1GB at 4G speeds.
Verizon is so desperate to impart the logic of limitation that it now offers data plans in "small, medium, large, extra large, and extra-extra large" sizes.
Each metaphor is more inane and unnecessary than the last, but it doesn’t really matter, because only a few companies really own the internet, and they succeed most when they cooperate without acting like they’re cooperating.
He wants you to think T-Mobile is blowing this model of theft up, but it’s actually just playing the same game as everyone else. If net neutrality has a core idea, it’s that regular people ought to be in charge of the internet — especially since the internet is mostly just people.
That doesn't mean T-Mobile is trying to gouge customers, but Binge On is bad for different reasons. Binge On is bad because it gives T-Mobile too much power. That means companies like T-Mobile shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, even if customers appear to be winning in the short term. Legere insists that anybody who wants to be a part of Binge On can be, as long as they meet T-Mobile’s technical specifications. It's not clear if Legere understands what net neutrality means.
The thing we conveniently call the internet, which is really just varying combinations of you, and me, and the phones and wires and media that are all connected by them, are owned and operated by very few people.