You may have heard about “Binge On”—a way for T-Mobile subscribers with 3 gigabyte data caps to watching online video without worrying about blowing past their data limit and being hit with sizable overage charges. Sounds awesome, huh? Perhaps for some, but the program has nevertheless been criticized due to the fact that certain apps were binge-able and others were not. As we previously pointed out with another T-Mobile program, “Music Freedom,” this establishes a troubling precedent for consumers who want to be able to use their preferred apps to access legitimate, licensed content without being penalized for doing so. Such plans, while consumer-friendly on the surface, also impact developers who may find their products and services in the penalty box for no discernable reason.
Even more troubling are reports that T-Mobile is not only excluding certain video services—they’re also throttling non-Binge On video across the board, even for subscribers with unlimited data plans. So if you’re a T-Mobile customer who wants to check out a band’s Pledge Music video to decide whether you want to plunk down to support their upcoming record, you might end up watching a spinning wheel instead. If you’re hoping to take in an exclusive live concert from your favorite singer-songwriter on your tablet while on the bus, you probably won’t have much luck.
Future of Music Coalition met with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s staff to discuss so-called “zero-rating”—the practice of excepting certain online applications, sites and services from user-imposed data caps. This ex-parte filing details the conversation and lays out how zero-rating can be used to hinder competition and why it ultimately serves to disadvantage creative entrepreneurs.
February 13, 2015
Ms. Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
445 Twelfth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20054 Via Electronic Filing
Re: GN Docket No. 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet
Post by Policy Intern Juan Carlos Melendez-Torres and Casey Rae
T-Mobile markets itself as a great liberator within the mobile phone industry through its “UnCarrier” initiatives. But is the company really all that different from other powerful carriers and Internet Service Providers?
On June 18, T-Mobile announced UnCarrier 6.0, which includes new “partnerships” with streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, Slacker, Rhapsody and Milk Music. Under the UnCarrier 6.0 provisions, T-Mobile will not count music streamed on the aforementioned services against their subscribers’ data caps. Using any other online music service—say, Bandcamp or Noisetrade—will result in slowed speeds and potentially, overages.
Remember that little thing called net neutrality that FMC and our musician and independent label pals have been talking about for years? Well, this week AT&T made a move that underscores why this principle is so important to creators.
Back in early 1990s, you couldn’t go anywhere without stumbling across an AOL “Internet starter disc.” Whether on an airplane seat, a high school cafeteria tray or tucked inside a pizza box, AOL’s blitz marketing campaign was pretty much unavoidable. As we recall, each individual disc had a big number stamped on it, indicating the amount of hours of free Internet access you had before you had to pay for a subscription (700 hours, 1000 hours, 1025 hours, you get the picture). Back then, the fact that AOL was offering Internet access in terms of hours wasn’t weird. In fact, charging by the hour was the norm. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s, when this all changed. AOL introduced its unlimited plan (along with the Buddy list) and the rest is media history.
Paying for every hour you spend online is a form of usage-based pricing—a model where price is determined by how much of the service you consume. Usage-based pricing is a model that is common in many other industries. For example, when you get on an airplane, you have the option of paying for a first-class ticket in order to get bigger chairs, and more privacy. On the DC Metro, you pay according to the distance you travel.
For the last couple of decades, we’ve gotten used to paying one price for an unlimited number of hours online. Many of us leave our email open all day, watch YouTube videos of our favorite bands for hours, and download albums whenever we feel like it. And when the iPhone was introduced in 2007, it came with an unlimited data plan, upholding the decade-long user expectation of being able to go where you want online without worrying about how much each website visit would cost.
But the days of unlimited data plans may be numbered. Both wireless and wireline providers are now experimenting with usage-based pricing in the form of data caps—limits on the amount of data you can upload or download per month. Most ISPs have instituted some form of hard or soft caps.
This week, AT&T announced that it will begin throttling data speeds for 3G mobile network subscribers, even for users with unlimited data plans. AT&T is not the first telecom to take such measures — Verizon and Virgin Mobile have already started reducing speeds for their heaviest data users. If you’ve ever used a mobile music app like Pandora, Rhapsody or Spotify, you know how quickly you can go over these arbitrary limits. read more
Here at FMC, we’re intrigued by the potential of “cloud music”— from mobile apps to remote storage lockers to sites and services that facilitate discovery and collaboration. When you look at recent developments, it seems that the future for digital music may be headed off of hard drives and into the cloud. When we say “intrigued,” we mean it: after all, we keep keepwritingaboutit. read more