T-Mobile’s Binge On safe from California’s net neutrality rules

When AT&T this week ended its sponsored data program due to California’s newly enacted net neutrality laws, it called into question similar programs at other wireless providers like T-Mobile.

T-Mobile’s Binge On feature provides the company’s wireless customers with unlimited video streaming from services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. It’s similar to how AT&T was allowing customers to stream video services like HBO Max without it counting against data caps, but different enough to not run afoul of net neutrality rules.

“Our determination is that Binge On is not affected by this because it zero-rates the video streaming services category. Binge On is open for free to all video streaming services that choose to participate and meet basic technical criteria,” said a T-Mobile spokesperson.

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Binge On optimizes video quality for smartphone screens, which typically results in video resolution of 480p or better. The provider allows customers to turn off the feature to enable streaming at higher resolutions.

Binge On covers T-Mobile's own TVision streaming service but also includes several third-party services including Showtime, TikTok and DAZN. AT&T's sponsored data appears to have only been applied to the company's own video services.

But now, AT&T said that California’s new laws not only end its ability to offer California customers free data services but also impacts its customers in states beyond California.

“A state-by-state approach to ‘net neutrality’ is unworkable. A patchwork of state regulations, many of them overly restrictive, creates roadblocks to creative and pro-consumer solutions,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We deliver the content and services our customers want because it’s what they demand, not because it’s mandated by regulation.”

California’s rules are meant to prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing content or applications, or from charging fees to internet companies for faster access to customers. They went into effect this year after a federal judge denied a request from AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other ISPs to delay the new rules.

The rules were first signed into law in 2018 by then-Governor Jerry Brown but the U.S. Justice Department responded by filing a lawsuit against California, alleging that interstate communications should be regulated by the federal government and not on the state level.