February 5, 2016
The launch of T-Mobile’s Binge On service has stirred controversy for a number of reasons, and the company has not handled the situation nearly as well as it could have. While T-Mobile tries to dig its way out of a hole of its own making, there’s a lot that other tech companies can learn from this situation. It’s a good lesson in what not to do.
Don’t Lie to Protect Your Positive Spin
A service that optimizes video for smartphones sounds like a great idea on paper. With 19 percent of all TV now being watched on mobile devices, it makes sense that you’d want to streamline the delivery of that content. The problem is that despite calling what Binge On does “optimization,” it’s really not optimizing anything. That is, unless you count downgrading video quality to 480p in order to save bandwidth.
When questioned, T-Mobile repeatedly stated that Binge On optimizes video and doesn’t throttle speeds. Now, it’s natural to want to portray your new service in a positive light, but saying that Binge On doesn’t throttle speeds is a bad idea, because it absolutely does. Tests showed that with Binge On active, videos are streamed and downloaded at around 1.5 Mbps regardless of what connection speeds are available.
This is bad news for T-Mobile. In addition to their concerns about Binge On, many customers now see the company as being outright dishonest. So, what should it have done? Well, for starters, don’t tell your customers something that’s explicitly not true. If you have to spin a negative to make it look like a positive and customers call you out on it, back up your decision with reasoning and facts. Tell your customers why that bad thing is necessary, don’t double down on pretending it’s not what it looks like.
Know the Big Issues (and When to Stay Clear of Them)
Net neutrality is a big deal. Customers have been fighting for a long time to put in place rules that prevent the preferential treatment of data, and now they’ve finally made some headway thanks to the FCC. So it makes sense that if a company appears to be in violation of these new rules, people are not going to be happy about it.
T-Mobile’s Binge On service doesn’t technically violate the letter of the law when it comes to net neutrality, especially since mobile data services are given more leeway than traditional ISPs. The thing is, that doesn’t really matter. Binge On throttles and reduces the quality of all video, regardless of source. However, only video from select sources will be free from the restrictions of the data cap.
While the video sources don’t pay anything to make that list, it still seems certain data is getting preferential treatment, which is exactly what net neutrality is trying to prevent. Customers and critics alike have responded that Binge On is in violation of the spirit of net neutrality rules, even if it’s technically legal.
When in Doubt, Give Customers More Info
Net neutrality issues aside, a large portion of this controversy could have been avoided if T-Mobile had been clearer about what Binge On actually does from the start. Using vague terms like optimization, especially when those terms don’t really apply, makes it seem like you’re intentionally hiding something. Responding to that criticism defensively rather than making an effort to explain the program more thoroughly only made things worse.
If Binge On was explained in more detail in the initial announcement, there likely would have been some discussion about whether or not it’s actually worth it. Given that it’s entirely optional, however, most customers would have simply decided to use it or not and moved on. Instead, customers feel like they’ve been deceived into thinking Binge On is something it’s not. For some, T-Mobile may have lost their trust for good.
Image by Nick Karvounis
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