T-Mobile made a lot of noise last week with its announcement of "Binge On," a promotion that will let customers watch as many movies as they want on some streaming video outlets without having it count against their monthly data plans.
It sounds good but critics are noting that the plan could run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission's Net Neutrality rules, which are aimed at preventing telecommunications companies from favoring one type of content over another.
After all, if T-Mobile gives a free pass for viewing movies from Netflix and HBO, that puts Amazon Prime Video and Showtime, among others, at a competitive disadvantage.
Technically legal, but murky
Binge On may be technically legal. The FCC's rules prohibit telecom companies from accepting money from content providers to give them favored treatment, but they don't explicity prohibit deals like T-Mobile's, in which a carrier simply declares some types of content as free. The industry term for this practice is "zero rating" and it is still something of a fuzzy area.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that the commission will look at each such plan individually, at least for now. And so far, there's no sign T-Mobile will have to back off.
Among the critics is Corynne McSherry, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"We have an Internet and a whole digital economy that was built around the notion that there weren't gatekeepers," McSherry said in an NBC News report. "ISPs are supposed to be common carriers: 'We'll carry the data, whatever it is.' Whenever we have a program like T-Mobile's, you're moving away from that model."
Starts this week
Binge On starts this week and is restricted to customers who have data plans of at least three gigabytes. New customers can sign up this week' existing customers will get it automatically.
The plan includes 24 video services, including most of the major ones, but excludes YouTube and videos from Facebook.