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T-Mobile has announced its new Binge On service as a continuing part of its “uncarrier” movement. Binge On allows T-Mobile customers with capped data plans to continue streaming video from 24 different services — including Netflix, Hulu, and HBO GO — without using up their limited data.

That’s right: unlimited video streaming from Netflix and other major video streaming apps. That sounds fantastic, but could it have more serious long-term ramifications for the future of the Internet and how we treat streaming data?

It very well could. Let’s investigate.

What Net Neutrality Really Means

Despite the fact that many people have thoroughly explained the nature of Net Neutrality — we’ve covered how it works and why you should care What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? What Is Net Neutrality & Why Should I Care? A significant number see Net Neutrality as essential to the survival of the Internet. In this article, we're going to look at why Net Neutrality matters, and why we should fight to protect it. Read More  — many major public figures still don’t understand it These Public Figures Have No Clue How Net Neutrality Works These Public Figures Have No Clue How Net Neutrality Works Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and other public figures don't seem to understand what net neutrality actually is. Read More .

Basically, Net Neutrality simply means that all data on the Internet should be treated equally, that all kinds of data should be equally accessible and available at the same speeds. Anyone who has an Internet connection should have an equal opportunity to access any service on the Internet.

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Proponents of Net Neutrality argue that this allows for rapid innovation on the Web since brand new websites and services can be accessed just as easily as the big, already-established players.

But since there are a few big players (like Netflix) who occupy most of the Internet’s traffic, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast would love to slow down Netflix’s service Netflix Vs Cable Companies - Who Is More Likely To Win? Netflix Vs Cable Companies - Who Is More Likely To Win? Netflix is a growing force in the entertainment world, but broadcast and cable television have been around for a long time, and they didn’t achieve that success by playing fair. Read More unless they pay up. The fear among consumers and the FCC is that these “fast lanes” for services like Netflix would create tiers of Internet accessibility — because where there’s a fast lane, there’s also a slow lane.

If ISPs could demand money from any website or service that wants to get into the fast lane, that would essentially shut out all new competition and consumers would have no way to vote with their wallets. You either use the services that bought into the fast lane, or you suffer in the slow lane.

This would make the Internet less of an even playing field and more of a game of who can most afford to pay ISPs for preferential treatment.

So far, Net Neutrality has been winning How the Web Won on Net Neutrality: 5 Key Moments How the Web Won on Net Neutrality: 5 Key Moments It does looks like net neutrality will reign, at least for a while. Let's take a look back at some of the most important moments in this battle. Read More , but the battle is never over, and in the mobile Internet arena, the rules are a bit more grey thanks to something called zero-rating.

Fast vs. Slow, Capped vs. Uncapped

Mobile data is an entirely different beast from the Internet, which is brought into your house by cable or fiber optics while mobile connections are entirely wireless. As such, it’s common practice for wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon to cap their customers’ data plans and limit how much bandwidth they can use.

Generally, this means that anything you do on your phone that requires data will subtract from said data cap — but some wireless carriers have found a way to circumvent this in a practice known as zero-rating. Zero-rating simply means that for some apps or services on your phone, the data they use doesn’t count towards your data cap.

So it’s not exactly like the difference between a fast lane and a slow lane, but the difference between a capped lane and an uncapped lane.

In the case of T-Mobile’s new Binge On service, it technically doesn’t break any Net Neutrality rules. For one, it has nothing to do with preferential speeds, and for two, T-Mobile isn’t forcing these apps to pay extra fees in order to be included in the uncapped lane. So far, it seems like a good thing, right?

But anything that dances around the edge of violating Net Neutrality is worth a closer look, and this new announcement by T-Mobile could be the start of a slippery slope.

This Is How Net Neutrality Dies

T-Mobile CEO John Legere insists that this move doesn’t infringe on Net Neutrality — but then again, as the leader of a company who stands to benefit from stepping on Net Neutrality’s toes, why wouldn’t he?

He points to the fact that Music Freedom, which is T-Mobile’s service that allows for unlimited music streaming from certain apps, has been successful over the past year and hasn’t cut out competition because companies don’t have to pay to get into the program. For similar reasons, he argues that there aren’t fast lanes because all of the data is the same speed.

If you want to, you can even turn off Binge On in your account settings and live solely with your capped data.

But what happens when T-Mobile’s Music Freedom and Binge On expand to cover other apps, like social apps or video games? What happens when any app or service can apply to escape the cap? Then what happens to the capped data?

It’s simply impossible for everything to be shifted into the uncapped lane because this would make capped data plans obsolete. If uncapped data plans weren’t problematic, T-Mobile would already be offering them. So what’s T-Mobile’s reasoning behind allowing the largest data hogs to circumvent the data cap?

At some point, the evolution of T-Mobile’s plans would make apps and services in the “unlimited program” the norm, and everything else that still falls under the capped data would be outliers. In other words, T-Mobile would become the gatekeeper that vets which apps can have uncapped data, and they’d set the requirements — like paying fees.

Combined with the potential for even tighter data plans, this would put T-Mobile in complete control of what apps you’ll eventually be able to use — and that’s a lot of power for one company to have. Our Internet is safer off without wireless carriers who can decide what apps and services we can use.

Deep Down, “Binge On” Is Ugly

There are more limitations to Binge On beyond the great Net Neutrality ramifications. Some have pointed out that quality on the streaming service will be capped at “DVD quality”, or 480p, which Legere says looks good enough on phone screens. However, those with 1080p smartphones Fabulous Phablets: The 5 Best Big-Screen Smartphones You Can Buy Fabulous Phablets: The 5 Best Big-Screen Smartphones You Can Buy If you're going to buy a big-screen phone now, and by that, we mean something that's larger than a 5.5-inch screen and smaller than a 7-inch tablet, these are your best options. Read More would probably disagree.

This is meant to help reduce the amount of data strain that Binge On puts on T-Mobile’s network, but it might be a bit of a deterrent for those who are used to crystal-clear, high-resolution Netflix streams.

Also, there’s a major video streaming service that’s missing from Binge On: YouTube.

Having recently announced YouTube Red — which might be a bad idea for other reasons 4 Reasons YouTube Red Is Bad for the YouTube Community 4 Reasons YouTube Red Is Bad for the YouTube Community Google just announced YouTube Red. YouTube is a different kind of service with a big community. So, is YouTube Red good or bad for the video site in the long term? Read More  — it’s clear that YouTube is trying to be more of a competitor to Netflix and Hulu by offering original content on a paid subscription model. So why isn’t it part of the Binge On program? It’s dubiously missing.

Since current T-Mobile customers will have Binge On activated by default, and they don’t serve to gain much by disabling it, it’s likely that the service will quickly gather a substantial user base. It’s hard as a customer to argue with a service that costs you nothing to use, but it’s the long-term costs that we should really consider.

Will You Be Using Binge On?

We’re curious what you think about Binge On. If you’re already a T-Mobile customer, will you be taking advantage of the video streaming service? If you’re not, is this tempting you at all to switch to T-Mobile? Or do you see this as an attack on Net Neutrality?

Let us know down in the comments — we’d love to hear your opinions!

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