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Tech by VICE

All T-Mobile Users Just Had Their Video Streaming Quality Degraded

I’m mainly disappointed that a decision was made on my behalf.

by Nicholas Deleon
Dec 23 2015, 7:49pm

Image: T-Mobile

T-Mobile came under fire on Wednesday after the Wall Street Journal reported that YouTube claimed the wireless carrier is "interfering" with its video traffic, and thereby raising net neutrality concerns, as a result of its recently launched BingeOn program.

Launched in November, BingeOn gives T-Mobile customers the ability to watch popular streaming video services like Netflix and Hulu without having this data count against their monthly cap. (The full list of participants can be found here.)

On the surface it sounds like a great deal—and it undoubtedly is for many T-Mobile customers—but the catch is that the video quality of these services is then capped to 480p, which is what you'd find with a DVD (Remember DVDs?), and well below the 720p and 1080p video that's commonly available nowadays. This is where things get tricky.

Despite not being a participant in BingeOn (allegedly because of technical reasons), YouTube's videos are also capped at 480p for T-Mobile customers. That's because BingeOn is enabled by default.

"Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn't justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent," YouTube told the WSJ.

I'm a paying T-Mobile customer, and have been for three years. I can't exactly claim that T-Mobile didn't alert me to "optimized video streaming" because it sent me two text messages, one on November 19 and one on December 3, informing me that, thanks to BingeOn, I'd now be able to "watch 3x more video." Included in the text message is a link to T-Mobile's website where I'd be able to change my settings "at any time."

Image: Nicholas Deleon

The problem, as I see it, is that T-Mobile automatically enabled BingeOn on my account without first asking me if I wanted it enabled. Instead, I was retroactively told, effectively, we've gone ahead and enabled this service for you. If you ignore this text message, all of your videos will from now on be capped at 480p, whether or not they're going to count against your data cap or not anyway.

Image: Nicholas Deleon

I would have preferred being alerted to the service, and then asked if I wanted it enabled, and I'm guessing others would agree.

While I watch my fair share of Netflix, I also watch plenty of video services that are currently not part of BingeOn, including the WWE Network and Twitch (and YouTube, of course). Robbing me of the initial choice of enrolling in BingeOn, thus forcing me to delve into my account settings to restore my actual choice, is pretty lame.