T-Mobile’s Slow Descent to the Net Neutrality Nightmare

I am a T-Mobile customer, and I’m generally happy with my service. They get the basics right and they make it incredibly easy for me to keep up to date with the latest phones without breaking the bank. That said, their new plan rolling out next week, T-Mobile 1, is a step too far, and I would not feel comfortable as a strong supporter of net neutrality if I didn’t say anything.

T-Mobile 1 is an affront to what net neutrality stands for, and it’s actually their second step down a worrying path. Frankly, it’s a slap in the face to the idea of net neutrality, and I’m extremely worried about the precedence that it sets for the future.

But let’s back up for a second, this is actually the second time in the past few years that T-Mobile has done something like this. Back in June 2014 they unveiled their Music Freedom “Uncarrier” initiative that made certain music streaming services not count towards your data cap. This was a nice feature for users because it let them stream as much Spotify and other music services as they wanted, but it didn’t include everything. Over time they’ve added more music services, but treating music data differently from all other data is literally the opposite of the phrase “net neutrality.”

We didn’t all freak out about this at the time because it wasn’t technically treating the data differently, it was just changing how T-Mobile calculated your data usage throughout the month. Nothing was being slowed down either, so it’s not like your music would stream worse just because it wasn’t a part of T-Mobile’s Music Freedom plan. Well, it wouldn’t until it pushed you over your data cap and you were throttled to 2G speeds.

But this latest change to T-Mobile’s data structure is not only another step towards killing net neutrality, it’s basically a giant middle finger to the entire concept. The basic idea of net neutrality is that data is data, you don’t treat this data differently than another piece. It’s all ones and zeroes, and your access to that should not be modified or limited by your internet service provider. They can set quotas and limits on how much of it you can use, but how you use your XGB of monthly data is up to you the user. By saying “we’ll give you unlimited data but we’ll limit the types of videos you can download,” is a fundamental rejection of that concept.

This horrifying image was created a few years back, and it’s the doomsday scenario for net neutrality. The idea is that you get a base set of websites for a base cost and then can add packages of sites for an extra $5-10 each. Presumably in this reality you would get a message when going to CNN.com that you need to add the “News package” to your internet plan in order to access that site. It’s a horrible thought, and one that many people (including myself) thought was so insane that we’d never approach that reality.

I created the graphic at the top of this piece as a way to explain T-Mobile 1’s data structure, and it’s similarities to that doomsday image from 2014 are more than a little striking. You could argue that it’s an oversimplification of the plan, but I’d argue that it’s pretty damn spot on. You get unlimited access to most of the web, but if you want anything more than SD video (which looks pretty bad on our HD screens these days), you need to pay for it. Data is no longer just data, and not even all videos are videos. The world of HD video may as well not exist to standard subscribers to the T-Mobile 1 plan. You’re going to have to pay an extra $25 per month to get access to that part of the web.

And that’s the point. Saying “you need to pay $25 more a month to access a certain type of video online” is really not that different from saying “you need to spend $5 more to access Facebook” doesn’t seem that far off.