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T-Mobile’s new ‘unlimited’ plan is a blatant violation of net neutrality

T-Mobile made a big announcement last week when it revealed its “Uncarrier 12” initiative, a new plan called T-Mobile One. It’s called that because it’s the only plan T-Mobile will offer going forward. The headlining feature is that it has unlimited calls, SMS, and data. However, it’s not unlimited in the way you might expect — there are plenty of limits, in fact. The EFF is weighing in on T-Mobile One and thinks it’s a clear violation of net neutrality. That’s pretty obvious when you look past the shiny PR pitch. T-Mobile One makes you pay extra to skip the carrier’s restrictive video throttling.

T-Mobile One removes the data buckets we’ve all become accustomed to. Instead, you get “unlimited” data. You can use as much as you want on the phone, but not all of it moves at the same rate. The line charges are a little higher than the old base plans, but less expensive than traditional unlimited ones. The first line is $70, the second is $50, and $20 per line after that. This cost does not include tethering data beyond unusable 2G (128Kbps, if you’re lucky) and more importantly, video higher than 480p in resolution.

You might recall earlier this year when T-Mobile started offering its Binge On feature. With Binge On, you get unlimited video data on various partner services like Netflix and Hulu, but in exchange you are limited to 480p video. While that probably didn’t violate the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, it certainly violated their spirit. You could disable Binge On in your account if you wanted full resolution video, but that costs money with T-Mobile One. Specifically, you need the $25 HD video add-on to disable video throttling. If you want tethering at usable speeds, that’s $15 per 5GB block. Those certainly sound like limits on an “unlimited” plan.

T-Mobile

Net neutrality holds that internet service providers cannot treat data differently based on type — the caveat being that the FCC rules make allowances for reasonable network management. That’s not what T-Mobile One is, though. The carrier is offering unlimited data as part of this plan only because it knows people won’t be able to use very much of it with throttled video. The original Binge On deployment was saved by the fact that it was optional. According to the EFF, putting a paywall up with T-Mobile One “runs directly afoul of the principle of net neutrality.”

Video streams at 480p can look similar to higher-resolution ones on a small mobile device display. However, we’re not just talking about resolution. The compression of lower resolution video is also much more noticeable. It simply doesn’t look as good. If you do want all the features T-Mobile’s current plans have, it’s going to cost you more. If you add tethering and HD video to a T-Mobile One plan, it’s much more expensive. There’s no lower tier if you don’t need that much data, either.

Even if you’re not that picky about video quality, T-Mobile One sets a troubling precedent. If T-Mobile can start charging more for unthrottled video data, what’s to stop carriers from charging more for other types of full speed data? T-Mobile One goes into effect on September 6th, so customers should make any plan changes before then.

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