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22 November 2018

German court cannot let StreamOn slide, tells DT to permit HD

Deutsche Telekom’s zero-rated streaming service StreamOn has been ruffling the feathers of German regulators ever since it debuted in April last year, with various cries of net neutrality and roaming violations. A year and one month after the service was first accosted, the Administrative Court of Cologne has confirmed accusations of the German operator being partly in the wrong – meaning certain elements of StreamOn will continue to be restricted as they have since December 2017.

So while the US equivalent Binge On has been repeatedly blasted for throttling content down to 480p but continues to operate in full swing, StreamOn’s fatal mistake was the act of not fully applying the concept of zero-rating when leaving Germany, as StreamOn began eating into subscribers’ mobile data upon entering other EU countries, the court found.

Is this not incredibly ironic, how regulators stuck their noses into the business of a free service, on the grounds of apparently not treating the various video and music streaming services included as equals in terms of bandwidth, only to wax lyrical about roaming rules? There was a smaller mention of net neutrality violations, and Deutsche Telekom has again been told it must allow HD streaming, even though it takes on all the costs of traffic over its own networks, at no additional expense to either consumers or partner companies.

Either way, the official decision is that StreamOn has broken EU roaming laws along with a minor net neutrality violation, and Deutsche Telekom has again been told to make the appropriate tweaks. The pressing question is therefore why Deutsche Telekom has not acted given the length of time it was given to get StreamOn in order?

Deutsche Telekom’s attempts to appeal the decision have been rejected, and the operator released the following statement to Broadband TV News following the decision, “The court decision has no direct effect on our StreamOn offer. In the interest of our customers, we will continue to make use of all legal possibilities so that StreamOn can continue to be offered. The termination of StreamOn would be a major disadvantage for our more than 1.7 million customers and over 350 content partners.”

The debacle came about after the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) intervened to calm down the consumer group Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV) which totally lost its rag back in October last year, calling for immediate closure of StreamOn. Keeping a cool head, BNetzA decided to get involved in an attempt to find a level playing field where zero-rated services can please everyone.

This sat-on-the-fence stance really riled the VZBV, as Chairman Klaus Müller vocalized at the time, “The decision for the Federal Network Agency not to prohibit StreamOn and other zero-rating offers in principle is at the expense of the free internet. This will not only reduce the freedom of choice for consumers, but also competition between service providers.”

The VZBV’s main push was to get Deutsche Telekom to raise data caps so other services could get onboard, as HD streaming was restricted by the maximum 1.7 Mbps bandwidth enforced in the small print. We have always upheld the opinion of 480p being sufficient for streaming content on smartphones, and enabling any partner company to join at no expense, with a minor catch of 1.7Mbps bandwidth limitation, is an intrinsically positive initiative. Nevertheless, there will always be someone to find something to complain about.

To be fair, Deutsche Telekom was warned. Despite there being no reason why telcos should not exempt certain services from data caps, the Federal Network Agency said it must comply with the new EU roaming regulations, meaning it must be transferable to all member states, which it was, it just ended up charging extra for the privilege. A tad mischievous.

Conclusively, Deutsche Telekom must redesign its tariffs, which may end up being hiked to account for the extra traffic over its networks, so possibly an anti-consumer initiative, for the new and existing customers of the MagentaMobil service, who have been able to receive zero-rated data for a variety of streaming service providers, depending on the size of the plan. StreamOn initially included Apple Music, Amazon Music and Amazon Video, Napster, Netflix, Sky Go, YouTube, and ZDF, with a whole lot more added along the way.

On last count in February this year, StreamOn had picked up an impressive 800,000 users.