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Germany Blocks its Largest Telecom Company From Violating Net Neutrality

Regulators are protecting net neutrality after Telekom—which owns T-Mobile—began prioritizing content.

ByMotherboard Stafftranslated byDaniel Stächelin

Image: Shutterstock

A version of this article originally appeared on Motherboard Germany.

One day after the lost net neutrality battle in the United States, officials in Germany arrived at an important decision. Last Friday, the Bundesnetzagentur, or Federal Network Agency, forbade the company Deutsche Telekom from throttling the streaming speeds of videos as part of its additional StreamOn service. The highest German regulatory officials responsible for issues relating to the internet ordered Telekom to restructure StreamOn accordingly—and to keep all data streaming fair and equal. Telekom criticized the decision as “very puzzling.”

Deutsche Telekom is the parent company of T-Mobile (including T-Mobile in the US).

With the StreamOn option, Telekom customers have the ability to stream songs and videos from certain service providers without it appearing on their monthly data bill, a practice known as “zero rating,” which violates what we traditionally think of as net neutrality. Depending on the chosen package, users are able to access content from Telekom partners like Netflix, Apple Music, and YouTube. The Federal Network Agency didn’t bring up zero rating in its decision, however. Instead, it say that Telekom and StreamOn prioritizes certain types of streaming content. It throttles video (and allows it to be streamed only at standard definition), while prioritizing music and other audio content. The agency argues that video streaming should also be offered at an uncurbed rated.

StreamOn is a similar program to T-Mobile US's BingeOn program.

In a press release, the agency justified its decision by saying it wished to preserve net neutrality in Germany. Prohibiting the limiting of video streaming not only “allows for a greater Internet diversity, but also bolsters the providers of video-streaming services who place worth on higher-definition content,” Jochen Homann, the head of the agency, said in the release. Furthermore, the agency also pointed to the standpoint that it is enforcing a decision set by European law. “Fair treatment is a cornerstone of European regulations for net neutrality,” Hohmann added.

Andrus Ansip, EU Commissioner for Digital Single Market, tweeted that “to access the open internet without discrimination or interference (like blocking or slowing down)” is enshrined in EU law. In an article in the French newspaper Le Monde, Ansip claimed that the elimination of net neutrality in the United States had “no effect on Europe.”

Telekom is defending itself against the decision made by the Federal Network Agency and signaled its intention to pursue legal action. The decision of the “Bonn-based regulatory” is, according to the company, “very puzzling” and targets 700,000 customers and 150 partners of Telekom, a spokesperson wrote in a blog post. StreamOn has been a “great success story,” which the Federal Network Agency “seems to resent.”

Telekom did not comment on the accusation that it intends on carving out net neutrality in Germany. However, the company defended bandwidths throttling for video streaming: the streaming of videos in DVD quality instead of in HD is “absolutely sufficient,” as evinced by the high number of subscriptions for the StreamOn option, according to Telekom.

Even Vodafone offers its customers certain packages for so-called “zero-rating” streaming not applied to their monthly data plans, and the Federal Network Agency is investigating zero rating as a possible infraction upon net neutrality.

Telekom now has until March 2018 to adjust its StreamOn offering according to the demands set by the network authority.