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The truth about T-Mobile, Net neutrality, and video throttling

T-Mobile, a carrier that has been shaking up the mobile industry with its innovative moves, now finds itself at the center of a tempest, with YouTube and the Electronic Frontier Foundation accusing it of throttling video streams on its network in violation of Net neutrality rules. That claim has unleashed a flurry of condemnation, but are T-Mobile’s actions as nefarious as they’re being made out or simply the new normal — or both?

At the center of the controversy is T-Mobile’s Binge On program. Introduced in November as yet another game changer, Binge On allows mobile users to stream unlimited video from participating services like Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu without it counting against their data allowances. The service joined T-Mobile’s other innovation, Music Freedom, which lets mobile customers stream unlimited music from services like Apple Music, Google Music, Pandora, and Spotify to a phone or tablet without triggering overage charges.

What’s not to like?

True, T-Mobile downgrades the video stream from 1080p to 480p, but 480p is adequate quality for viewing on most phone screens. Is the problem merely a question of semantics then? What the EFF and YouTube call “throttling” T-Mobile claims is “optimizing,” reducing video streams to provide a better experience for customers by helping them stretch their data allotment.