Post by Policy Intern Juan Carlos Melendez-Torres and Casey Rae
T-Mobile markets itself as a great liberator within the mobile phone industry through its “UnCarrier” initiatives. But is the company really all that different from other powerful carriers and Internet Service Providers?
On June 18, T-Mobile announced UnCarrier 6.0, which includes new “partnerships” with streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, Slacker, Rhapsody and Milk Music. Under the UnCarrier 6.0 provisions, T-Mobile will not count music streamed on the aforementioned services against their subscribers’ data caps. Using any other online music service—say, Bandcamp or Noisetrade—will result in slowed speeds and potentially, overages.
This move is worrisome for a number of reasons.
As our former Policy Fellow Rachel Allen described in her look at data caps, innovation and creativity, such restrictions aren’t great for users and artists, and they aren’t particularly innovation-friendly. T-Mobile’s new initiative shows that data caps aren’t just a technique to manage congestion and make extra money from subscribers—they can also be used to discourage competition and limit choice for artists and fans.
The ironically titled “Music Freedom” initiative effectively shoehorns T-Mobile customers into using pre-approved services, some of which may not be the artists’ top preference. You may find yourself asking, “but isn’t this a violation of net neutrality?” If only. The most recent attempts at preserving a level online playing field did not apply to mobile. And most of those rules were tossed out by a federal court late last year. We need to fix this. Now is the time for musicians and all Internet users to tell the FCC that we need the strongest net neutrality rules possible, and that they must apply to mobile. Anyone can file! Make it happen!
Back to T-Mobile. What we’re seeing is a carrier potentially impacting innovation while limiting consumer choice. There’s no doubt that streaming on mobile devices is becoming a central way for fans to access music. Still, many artists have mixed feelings about compensation and leverage on mainstream streaming services. There are alternatives, but how are these and future platforms supposed to gain traction if the game is rigged?
We think “Music Freedom” sets a bad precedent. UnCarrier 6.0 (so far) only applies to streaming music services, but there’s nothing stopping T-Mobile or other (un?)carriers from doing this with other apps. Hang on to your handsets—the slope just got a lot more slippery.
On a more minor note, UnCarrier 6.0 also includes a function for users to vote for other platforms to include in T-Mobile’s data subsidy. A cute stunt, we suppose. Interestingly, one of the services in consideration is Grooveshark—a company that many feel is not on the up-and-up with artists and rightsholders. Is that the kind of company that T-Mobile really wants to keep, while excluding others?
All of the above, along with the problematic statements made by T-Mobile CEO John Legere about the launch make us think that T-Mobile is more unhelpful than “UnCarrier.”