T-Mobile killed Binge On and hatched a whole new set of problems

With T-Mobile’s launch of Uncarrier 12, which makes all of its data plans unlimited, the carrier has effectively killed three of its previous Uncarrier initiatives: Binge On, Music Freedom and Data Stash.

In one fell swoop, T-Mobile looks to have washed its hands of some net neutrality controversy with its zero-rated data practices. But with the apparent exit of Binge On, Music Freedom and Data Stash, a new set of problems for T-Mobile could just be beginning to take shape.

With all its new customers now being ushered onto unlimited data plans, there’s no need to zero-rate streaming activities or to roll over unused data from month-to-month.

“When you are unlimited, you don’t have to worry about counting and stashing gigs or which sites stream free,” said T-Mobile in a statement provided to FierceWireless. “Binge On, Music Freedom and Data Stash were industry-changing moves that made T-Mobile One possible. Existing customers on qualifying Simple Choice plans will still get Binge On, Music Freedom and Data Stash.”

T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert said today during a conference call discussing the new plans that the carrier will begin to phase out Simple Choice plans on Sept. 6. And because the pricing for the new T-Mobile One plans falls somewhere between T-Mobile’s 6 GB and 10 GB plans, which Sievert said are currently T-Mobile’s most popular, odds are good that many customers will gravitate toward T-Mobile One.

But, as Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner points out, a 6 GB plan on T-Mobile with all zero-rated streaming is a “de facto unlimited plan,” and one that costs less than T-Mobile One, which starts at $70 per month. Without the $50 intro tier that got so many customers through T-Mobile’s doors, Entner fears that the “entry level breaks away” for T-Mobile.

Entner said this could become even more problematic considering that Sprint just introduced its own unlimited plan that undercuts T-Mobile’s plan by $20/month for two lines.

But the real potential red flag for T-Mobile One is the $25 upcharge to upgrade video quality from T-Mobile’s standard 480p resolution to HD video.

With Binge On, 480p video was positioned as a more than acceptable resolution for smaller screens. Now, with T-Mobile One, 480p resolution looks more like an entry level option that can be upgraded.

“You’re treating different traffic differently. If AT&T or Verizon did this, the FCC would slap them down in a heartbeat,” said Entner. “I think carriers should be able to do what T-Mobile is doing. But all of them should be able to do it.”

Indeed, while FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has promised to keep a close watch on sponsored data programs from AT&T and Verizon, he’s praised T-Mobile offerings like Binge On as “innovative.”

But if Wheeler changes his tune in light of T-Mobile’s new plan, it could be problematic for the Uncarrier.

“If the FCC says you can’t force people onto 480p, [T-Mobile] is in trouble,” said Entner. “Because the data usage will go through the roof.”

If T-Mobile customers could suddenly access HD or even 4K video and not worry about data usage, that could result in data consumption on the network going five-fold for HD or even 12-fold for 4K.

“It would bring the network to its knees,” said Entner.

For now, T-Mobile’s 480p stipulation is being viewed in the press as a “caveat” or “nasty fine print.” But it could potentially spark more serious issues. -- Ben@wwbenmunson