Binge-on controversy won’t go away

T-Mobile CEO John Legere

LOS ANGELES — The controversy over T-Mobile’s new Binge-On program won’t go away.

The move by the No. 3 wireless carrier to woo new customers with offers of free, but lower quality movie streaming, has raised questions over whether T-Mobile is showing favoritism to the video sites. There’s also an endless array of concerns from consumers and advocacy groups and a series of heated tweets, live video responses and blog posts with T-Mobile CEO John Legere defending the offering.

“The discussion has gotten so convoluted that I had to do some follow-up to help clarify a few things before we can move on,” Legere said in an online post this week.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group based in San Francisco, took a good look at Binge-On, and says T-Mobile is throttling all video feeds from providers who aren’t in the program — namely, the big one, YouTube. The world’s most-popular video site. Binge-on’s 38 partners include Hulu, Netflix and Crackle.

Legere’s initial response to EFF was in a Periscope live video broadcast to his nearly 2 million followers:.

“Who the f— are you anyway EFF, and why are you stirring up so much trouble?” He said.

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In another live video to his Twitter followers, he called the EFF and YouTube-owner Google, which has also attacked the Binge-On program, “Pandering ideologues who are using this to discuss an issue that’s secondary to customers,” he said.

In his latest post, Legere apologized for his salty language and defended Binge-On, calling it pro consumer and pro Net Neutrality. That’s the Federal Communications Commission rules that call for no digital provider to get favored treatment over others.

He doesn’t address the key issue of throttling in the post or address the T-Mobile consumer who wonders why their YouTube clips are playing at slower speeds.

But in an earlier live video tweet, Legere said throttling was “a game of semantics” and “bull—-.” Throttling, he said, is slowing data, and he denied T-Mobile does that. Critics are using the issue of throttling “as a platform to get into the news,” he said. “This is like a car manufacturer offering an economy version of a car.”.

The EFF isn’t buying his argument.

“T-Mobile seems to be arguing that downgrading video quality is not actually throttling, but we disagree,” says EFF Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula. ‘Throttling’ means that when a video stream hits T-Mobile’s network, its bandwidth is capped. If the video provider’s server has the capability to adapt the quality of the video, then the server can do that — but it is the video provider that is using ‘adaptive video technology,’ not T-Mobile. In other words, T-Mobile just constrains the bandwidth, and it’s up to video providers to make sure their videos stream smoothly.

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‘This isn’t semantics — it’s apples and oranges.”.

Meanwhile, Legere does look to make peace. In the blog post, Legere says he wants to sit down and talk with the EFF about their concerns. “That is a step we will definitely take,” T-Mobile’s CEO says.

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham.

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