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YouTube doesn't like T-Mobile's low-quality video scheme

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YouTube isn't happy with T-Mobile's new Binge On program. The program, which launched last month, prevents T-Mobile subscribers from streaming HD video and in exchange allows them to stream video from Netflix, HBO Go, and a number of other services without having it count toward their data cap. Notably, YouTube is not part of that program. But its video is being downgraded to around 480p quality anyway, and it would prefer that not be the case. In a statement provided to The Wall Street Journal, YouTube says, "Reducing data charges can be good for users, but it doesn’t justify throttling all video services, especially without explicit user consent."

Binge On is automatically enabled for T-Mobile customers

There are two issues with Binge On that YouTube calls out in its brief statement. First, Binge On reduces the quality of all streaming video, regardless of whether it's coming from a video service that's a partner or not. That means that YouTube's streaming quality is hurt by Binge On, but T-Mobile customers get no benefit in exchange — it still counts toward their data cap (albeit, they use less data than they would have when streaming HD). YouTube also calls out T-Mobile for not requiring its subscribers to explicitely enable this new feature. Instead, Binge On was automatically activated for all existing T-Mobile subscribers on its standard plan, so long as they're paying for at least 3GB of data each month. Binge On can be turned off at any time, but T-Mobile customers need to know about it to turn it off, and many likely aren't aware that it exists.

YouTube's criticism comes right as the Federal Communications Commissions is beginning to look into T-Mobile's practice of allowing select services to be used data-free, as well as similar practices from other companies. The commission last week sent a letter to T-Mobile asking for further information on both its Binge On program and its data-free music streaming program, Music Freedom. The FCC's new net neutrality rules forbid traffic throttling and prioritization, but the commission has avoided questions as to whether programs like Binge On break those rules or appropriately skirt around them. With this inquiry, we could be starting down a path that'll eventually get us a clear answer.

T-Mobile did not provide the Journal with a response to YouTube's criticism, instead providing a stock promotional line about how customers can disable Binge On if they want to. In response to an email from The Verge, T-Mobile pointed to a tweet from its CEO reiterating those remarks.

According to the Journal, YouTube isn't included in the Binge On program because T-Mobile is unable to consistently identify YouTube's traffic. T-Mobile says it's had discussions with YouTube about inclusion, but more technical work would be needed. YouTube did not respond to a request for further comment.

For now, it sounds like YouTube doesn't want to be a part of Binge On anyway. While Binge On might allow for more streaming, hurting video quality might hurt overall usage of YouTube, too. If YouTube wants its videos to stream at top quality for everyone, it'll need to get T-Mobile to stop downgrading nearly every video that passes through its subscribers' phones.