Earlier this week, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the most well-respected internet freedom nonprofits in the world, published an investigation showing that T-Mobile’s new Binge On video streaming program throttles all video content. After days of silence from the company, its CEO John Legere has responded: “Who the fuck are you anyway, EFF?”
First, some very quick background: Binge On allows T-Mobile customers to watch videos from certain video streaming providers (Think: Netflix but not YouTube, HBO but not PornHub) without the data counting against a customer’s monthly data cap. However, the EFF investigation found that anyone using Binge On (it is turned on by default) is having their video download speeds slowed down on all videos. This is potentially very bad for net neutrality, for reasons explained in my earlier blog post.
In any case, T-Mobile did not say anything about the allegations for several days. T-Mobile did not respond to my request for comment. Thursday, however, Legere posted a very rambling, heavily edited YouTube video filled with expletives and a blog post filled with capital letters and ellipses responding to EFF’s report.
“There are people out there saying we’re ‘throttling,’” Legere said. “That’s a game of semantics, and it’s bullshit. Binge On does NOT permanently slow down data nor remove customer control. Here’s the thing, mobile customers don’t always want or need giant heavy data files.”
The thing, though, is that this is not semantics. Slowing down all video content regardless of whether a streaming service is part of Binge On is the very definition of throttling, and neither Legere nor T-Mobile told customers that this throttling was (and is) happening.
Anyway, that’s what Legere did in a blog post earlier. In a tweet, however, he was a bit more unhinged. In response to an EFF tweet asking if “Binge On alter[s] the stream in any way, or just limit its bandwidth?,” Legere posted this video:
— John Legere (@JohnLegere) January 7, 2016
“So what BingeOn does, it includes a proprietary technology and what the technology does is not only detect the video stream, but select the appropriate bitrate to optimize to the mobile device,” he said. “That’s part A of my answer. Part B of my answer is ‘Who the fuck are you anyway, EFF, why are you stirring up so much trouble, and, who pays you?’”
It is highly doubtful Legere doesn’t know about the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but let’s quickly answer those questions.
Who (what?) the fuck is the EFF?
The EFF was founded in 1990 by poet John Perry Barlow, cypherpunk John Gilmore, and entrepreneur Mitch Kapor. It regularly speaks out against bad legislation, mass surveillance, copyright weirdness and abuse, net neutrality violations, patent trolls, etc. Its lawyers regularly represent people in cases against the NSA, AT&T (telecom! hi!), patent trolls, etc. etc.
Why is the EFF stirring up so much trouble?
This is more or less what the EFF does, often on behalf of consumers. The EFF isn’t perfect, but it is indisputably often on the side of consumers, assuming consumers care about things such as privacy, net neutrality, fair use, broadband competition, and general transparency. Also, one time the EFF and Greenpeace flew a blimp over the NSA’s largest data center.
T-Mobile's CEO is dying to know who EFF is. Friends, please tweet at @JohnLegere with the hashtag #WeAreEFF to enlighten him.
— EFF (@EFF) January 7, 2016
Who pays the EFF?
This is an interesting question. The EFF is funded by donations, and it’s a fair question to ask exactly who is giving them donations. It’s unclear who Legere thinks is funding EFF that would be both anti T-Mobile and anti-T-Mobile’s customers, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. Between July 2013 and July 2014 (most recent data available), the EFF received $4.79 million in individual donations, $2.5 million from foundations, and $500,000 from unspecified corporations. In the past, large donations have been made by mutual fund manager / general entrepreneur George Soros, the John D and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, and the Mitchell Kapor Foundation (he helped found the organization). Also, Reddit donated $82,765 to EFF earlier this year.
So, anyway, hope that clears some of this up.