Data De-Prioritization in a Net Neutrality World: T-Mobile Maintains Data Throttling Practices

by Matt Klassen on June 26, 2015

The practice of de-prioritizing data on broadband networks is really nothing new; it’s been a standard network management method since the dreaded days of P2P music and video swapping. It began with carriers simply blocking P2P content, but later evolved into them simply de-prioritizing the content, meaning the transfers were slower and thus people were less likely to engage in the data-hogging behaviour in the first place.

Now over the last several weeks we’ve seen this issue of data de-prioritization, otherwise known as throttling, come back to the fore, as the implementation of the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial Net Neutrality standards has muddied the waters regarding this long-standing practice of managing gluttonous data hogs.

Amidst this confusion we’ve seen fines levied, controversial contract cancellation practices adopted, and even carriers pre-emptively changing their policies, all in an effort to manage gluttonous data hogs on unlimited data plans. It’s a quagmire of uncertainty to be sure, one where we might think industry revolutionary T-Mobile might have some unique take on how to differentiate itself and change the course of the industry going forward. But in surprising twist T-Mobile has taken a different approach to data de-prioritization…it’s going to continue to do it.

Let’s never say that T-Mobile wasn’t one to buck the trends of the wireless industry, for as carriers wrestle with how to manage their networks in light of the implementation of Net Neutrality America’s fourth largest wireless carrier has done something revolutionary, but not necessarily something positive…it has implemented (or at least revised, updated and clarified) its own throttling policy.

As the fine print in the company’s policy now states: “Unlimited 4G LTE customers who use more than 21 GB of data in a bill cycle will have their data usage de-prioritized compared to other customers for that bill cycle at locations and times when competing network demands occur, resulting in relatively slower speeds.”

Now of course T-Mobile maintains that its policy remains legal under the current Net Neutrality standards, the same sort of thing Sprint said before pre-emptively changing its practices anyways.

“We love anything that puts consumers first,” T-Mobile said in a statement to FierceWireless. “Supporting a free and open Internet is no exception. We adhere to net neutrality rules which ban throttling on the basis of content, applications, services or non-harmful devices while allowing for reasonable network management and customer choice.”

The company went on to explain that it hasn’t changed its policy per se, it has simply updated the policy and attempted to make it more clear for the consumer (certainly helped by the fact that it’s barely visible amongst the fine print)

“This isn’t a change in our policy, but we have updated our disclosures so that consumers can see the specific amount of data usage that would put them into the top 3% of users,” T-Mobile said. “While the threshold changes every quarter, the management of our network in times and places of congestion has been our policy since launching Simple Choice Unlimited 4G LTE.”

Now that’s not to say that I don’t agree with what T-Mobile is doing here, even under the Net Neutrality rules there exist certain guidelines for justified network management of this sort, and given that the cap is 21GB, one could hardly feel sorry for the few impacted, but I will say that should the FCC continue to allow such throttling, I fear that even in this open Internet era that such data de-prioritization will become even more popular than it has ever been before.

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