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T-Mobile says it's 'downgrading,' not 'throttling' YouTube

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What does throttle even mean, man?

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T-Mobile and YouTube are in a semantics war over the meaning of the word throttle after the cell carrier introduced its Binge On video initiative in November. YouTube, which doesn't participate in the free video service, accused T-Mobile last week of throttling all of its video streams anyway and without user consent. T-Mobile now says the Google-owned video platform's choice of words is inaccurate.

"Using the term 'throttle' is misleading," a T-Mobile spokesperson told DSL Reports in an email. "We aren’t slowing down YouTube or any other site. In fact, because video is optimized for mobile devices, streaming from these sites should be just as fast, if not faster than before." So what should YouTube say instead? "Mobile optimized," T-Mobile says. "A less flattering 'downgraded' is also accurate."

"A less flattering 'downgraded' is also accurate."

Binge On, similar to T-Mobile's Music Freedom program, exempts certain streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Go from counting toward a mobile user's data plan, but only by capping video streams at "DVD-quality" 480p. Regardless of whether a company participates in Binge On, its video streams are capped by default. Binge On was automatically activated for all T-Mobile customers paying for at least 3GB of data per month starting November 19th and it can only be turned off on T-Mobile's website.

The ongoing dispute comes right as the Federal Communications Commission has begun questioning T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast about services like Binge On on the grounds they may violate net neutrality protections. The FCC avoided clarifying whether offering some web services for free, a practice known as zero-rating, is protected under its newly established open internet rules earlier this year. FCC chief Tom Wheeler even praised Binge On last month as "highly innovating and highly competitive." It appears zero-rating services are skirting close to the edge, and YouTube's use of the word throttling may put added pressure on the FCC to formally investigate the activity.