Binge On, Opt In, Truth Out
Last week, T-Mobile's CEO John Lagere publicly asked the Electronic Frontier Foundation a straightforward question: "Who the f*** are you anyway, EFF? Why are you stirring up so much trouble and who pays you?"
The question, delivered in a short podcast by the telephone mogul, was in response to a question EFF had asked T-Mobile: Doesn't your latest video product, called Binge On, violate both the letter and spirit of the Net Neutrality laws?
That attack on EFF was the second part of Lagere's response. Most commentators agree that it was just a dumb rant. The first part of his response was that Binge On's software, which selects the best available data-stream for the user, doesn't violate any Net Neutrality laws at all. That, the EFF says, is a lie.
In the resulting dust-up, T-Mobile has suffered a significant public relations hit and many technology analysts are now aggressively debating whether the company not only violated FCC rules but misled its customers in the process.
But the real question is whether this is actually illegal. If it isn't, T-Mobile's new product may be the first step taken by a telecommunications company in a dance several cellphone giants are about to join. Everyone in this industry is looking for a way around the FCC's Net Neutrality decision and some say T-Mobile may have found one. It's another round in the fight to keep the Internet alive.
It's not surprising that T-Mobile would be leading this industry dance. Over the years, the company has won a reputation for running circles around its competition by flaunting industry norms. Its rep is like that of Volkswagen during the 1960s and 70s: not overly fancy, solid, cheap (it was the first and predominant purveyor of the "prepaid" phone) and great at finding alternative ways to get you were you're going...or calling.
Most of that is only hype, the shine on a well-designed and aggressively sold image. T-Mobile is a major corporation that acts, pretty much, like every other corporation in its industry: trying to maximize profit while minimizing investment. But 60 million people have bought into the "alternative" image, using its prepaid and paid options and making T-Mobile a major industry player.
That prominence makes what the company does with video streaming very important. Video is not only the future of mobile communications but a whole lot of the present. With Netflicks, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and several other entertainment providers streaming television and movie content robustly, the video capability of a cellphone is rapidly becoming a factor when people decide which phone to buy.
So when T-Mobile announced Binge On in November, lots of eyes shifted in Lagere's direction. What new wrinkle would T-Mobile create in video streaming to beat its competitors? And, given the way news is reported, what will Lagere say in announcing it?