YouTube and Google Play agree to join T-Mobile’s Binge On Program, following criticism of video throttling

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YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV will now participate in T-Mobile’s “Binge On” program, which offers cellular subscribers the ability to watch a variety of services without those streams counting against users’ data plans. Google’s participation comes following its recent criticism of the program, which it said was unfairly throttling video services without user consent.

At the time of YouTube’s comments, T-Mobile’s Binge On program included a couple dozen major video services, including Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, ESPN, Vevo, HBO GO, and more. YouTube had opted out, as it claimed T-Mobile was lowering the video quality of those not being included, which it found problematic. T-Mobile countered by saying the program was in line with FCC regulations and could be turned off at any time by customers. It also said that any video provider could join if they met some basic technical requirements.

Consumer rights organization EFF got involved, too, saying that by making Binge On opt-out (meaning on by default), T-Mobile customers were having their video throttled without their explicit knowledge or consent.

It appears that T-Mobile and Google have now come to an agreement over the matter in question.

In an announcement posted to its Public Policy Blog, Google says that it raised its concerns with T-Mobile over the past several months, and T-Mobile has agreed to make certain improvements to the program to address those problems.

Specifically, T-Mobile has worked to improve notice and choice for users – meaning that it will better clarify to program participants what optimization means, and what the impacts of turning on or off Binge On will be.

In addition, the carrier has made it easier to turn the service on or off. Instead of having to click through a series of menus, consumers can turn it off with an SMS short code, with two clicks from the T-Mobile app, or with one click from the T-Mobile website. The change then takes place within minutes. This setting actually arrived earlier than today, notes T-Mobile. But this alone was not enough to warrant YouTube and Google Play’s participation.

Another significant change involves giving the video providers more information and choice about program participation. Before, says Google, “video services were not given a choice about whether their streams would be managed by T-Mobile if they did not join the program.” Now, video services meeting traffic-identification requirements will be able to opt-out, which means that T-Mobile will no longer modify their streams.

In addition, those who want to optimize their streams can work with T-Mobile to establish an average data limit. This will allow for an improved video experience at lower data rates, explains Google. Essentially, this allows the video provider to manage their video streams themselves, which gives them more control. Instead of using T-Mobile’s system to optimize the video, the video provider can choose to serve their own mobile-optimized video when a Binge On customer begins streaming.

T-Mobile also noted that while this option will be available to all, YouTube will be the first to take advantage of it.

YouTube and Google Play’s participation in the program begins today as a result of these changes, and comes alongside the addition of Baeble Music, Discovery GO, ESNE TV, FilmOn.TV, Fox Business, KlowdTV, and Red Bull TV. In total, there are now more than 50 video services available on Binge On, says the mobile operator, representing 70% of all video T-Mobile customers watch on phones and tablets each month.

In an announcement, T-Mobile also unveiled several data points regarding the status of the program, noting that, thanks to Binge On’s launch four months ago, its customers are now watching twice as many hours per day, in longer and more frequent viewing sessions than before. It says that more than 57 million GB (57 petabytes) have been streamed through Binge On, not counting towards users’ data plans. One unnamed video provider has seen twice the number of active viewers spike 90% and watch times nearly triple, T-Mobile also said.