In a Monday statement to Wireless Week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) raised concerns over whether the carriers’ new unlimited plans will conform to the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules.
While the group said it wasn’t privy to the technical details of either carrier’s operations, EFF Staff Attorney Kit Walsh said some of the information in their press releases was alarming. Of particular concern, Walsh said, were the parts about optimization of video, games and music streams – or, as Walsh put it, “throttling certain content and applications.”
Both T-Mobile and Sprint are planning to optimize video streams on the unlimited plan at 480p, while Sprint said it will also optimize game streams at up to 2 mbps and music at up to 500 kbps. T-Mobile said it will offer high definition video streams to its customers for an additional $25 per month. T-Mobile also said tethering on its unlimited plans will only be offered at 2G speeds.
“Limiting the speed of tethered traffic and throttling video are both practices that violate the FCC’s rule against throttling and the principle of net neutrality,” Walsh said. “The FCC was clear about banning such throttling in the Open Internet Order, where it said ‘If a broadband provider degraded the delivery of a particular application (e.g., a disfavored VoIP service) or class of application (e.g., all VoIP applications), it would violate the bright-line no-throttling rule.’ Simply substitute ‘video’ or ‘tethering’ in for ‘VoIP’ in that sentence, and you can see how the FCC’s rule applies here.”
While Walsh acknowledged the “no throttling” rule does allow for “reasonable network management,” she said the fact that T-Mobile is charging customers to avoid throttling “demonstrates that the limitations are being put in place not out of technical need, but for business reasons.”
However, Sprint on Monday argued the FCC’s open internet decision encouraged companies to give consumers the ability to choose plans with different performance options.
“Allowing customers to select plans that have performance options tailored to different needs or different classes of applications is good for consumers, net neutrality, and mobile competition,” a Sprint spokeswoman said in a statement. “To help ensure that consumers make informed choices, Sprint has provided details about the optimized streaming practice in plan materials and on its webpage.”
“Moves like this – and Binge On and Music Freedom before it – create more innovation and competition in the wireless industry, which is good for customers,” a T-Mobile spokesperson said Monday.
This isn’t the first time the EFF has butted heads with U.S. wireless carriers over throttling.
Back in January, the EFF released a report in which it found T-Mobile’s Binge On offering was throttling all video, not just that from program participants. The finding sparked a tiff between the EFF and T-Mobile CEO John Legere in which the latter accused the EFF of “stirring up so much trouble.”
The EFF’s report was later backed up by a separate report from consulting, engineering and testing services company P3 Group.
Legere insisted at the time that Binge On meets “all of the requirements of being net neutrality friendly.”