T-Mobile confirms Binge On tech slows streaming video data speeds

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T-Mobile on Friday said its new Binge On service does indeed slow down cellular data connections to streaming video sites as some customers have complained, but maintains the feature is an "optimization" to benefit consumers, not data throttling.

In a statement provided to Wired, a T-Mobile representative confirmed that subscribers who opt in to Binge On will see downgraded connection speeds when streaming or downloading video from websites not participating in the service.

Introduced in November as part of T-Mobile's latest "Uncarrier" campaign, Binge On allows customers to stream optimized video at resolutions up to 480p from supported sites without it counting against their monthly data allotment. So far the service has 38 partners, including big names like Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Hulu, A&E and History.

Critics are concerned that the so-called "zero rating" policy flies in the face of net neutrality rules, while consumer groups claim other issues are at play. The Electronic Frontier Foundation this week discovered T-Mobile is slowing down data to 1.5Mbps across-the-board. Videos from Binge On partners are not affected by the slowdown as they are provisioned to serve up 480p content, but attempting to view higher resolution videos from other sites like YouTube results in a poor viewing experience.

T-Mobile, or more specifically CEO John Legere, says critics are attempting to confuse customers by using terms like "throttling" and "net neutrality" to describe Binge On, both of which are apparently incorrect.

"There are people out there saying we're 'throttling,'" Legere said in a video published to T-Mobile's website alongside a blog post. "That's a game of semantics, and it's bullshit."

In addition to posting the expository video and letter, Legere took part in a Periscope live video chat on Thursday to discuss Binge On's backend technology and how it affects end users. Yesterday's session failed to clarify the matter.

For its part, T-Mobile notes customers can turn Binge On off at any time. Further, content providers have the choice of being included in the program so long as their platforms are compatible.