Everyone is hopping on the Pokemon Go hype train (including us), so it should come as no surprise that communications service providers (CSPs) are looking to get in on the action too.
Yesterday, T-Mobile announced that they were going to be giving their subscribers unlimited Pokemon Go data for the next year.
Sounds like a great win for subscribers, right? Not so fast.
In May of this year, Sandvine published a set of best practices for operators looking to implement sponsored data and zero-rating plans. These best practices are designed to keep communications service providers (CSPs) on the right side of even the most stringent Network Neutrality rules, and that’s where we think T-Mobile may have a problem.
As we highlighted in a previous blog post, “openness” is one of the key principles to preserving Net Neutrality when launching innovative new services. We encouraged CSPs to:
“Ensure the sponsored data plan or zero-rating plan is open to all members of a sponsored/zero-rated data class, and not just available to selected content/application providers.”
While free Pokemon Go data certainly does benefit subscribers, we think T-Mobile is failing to meet that openness standard as they aren’t offering a similar deal for other games. T-Mobile is leaving themselves open to criticism that they are “picking winners and losers” with this offer – a no-no under the US Open Internet Order, in particular paragraph 136:
“Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage (i) end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or (ii) edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.”
Contrast the Pokemon Go example with Binge On and Music Freedom, which are T-Mobile’s existing zero-rating offerings. We feel that both of those plans meet the openness standard as they did not pick a single audio or video streaming service, but instead chose to zero-rate popular application classes, and invited any qualifying service to join and be zero-rated as well.
So how can T-Mobile give their subscribers free Pokemon Go data? They could offer a similarly-structured program to Binge On and Music Freedom, but focused on zero-rating all gaming traffic on their network. T-Mobile could initially zero-rate the most popular games (like Pokemon Go), and then openly allow game developers to apply to the program. Or, they could offer to zero-rate the traffic of only one individual game per subscriber (such as Pokemon Go), but let the subscriber choose that game from a menu that is open to all games.
We applaud T-Mobile’s efforts to introduce much-needed innovation into Internet service plans in the U.S. market. Sandvine strongly believes that zero-rating and sponsored data offers can benefit subscribers, CSPs, and content and application developers — as long as such offers are implemented in a way that is fair for all parties. It will be interesting to see the reaction to T-Mobile’s Pokemon Go strategy, but if we were placing bets, we’d guess Pika-BOO.