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18 July 2019

Zero-rating needs a hero – DT’s StreamOn under fire again

Another blow has been dealt in the perpetual bashing of zero-rated video streaming services as Deutsche Telekom was ordered to make fundamental changes to its StreamOn offering after a court ruled against the German giant – again.

We called it, way back in October 2017 when Deutsche Telekom fell into the same trap as the BingeOn service from its US counterpart T-Mobile, almost immediately after StreamOn’s launch. Notoriously stringent German regulators accused the service of violating net neutrality regulations but despite desperate cries from consumer advocacy groups to shutter StreamOn permanently, the service has survived by adhering to a maze of rules and regulations hell-bent on tripping up the operator.

These consumer advocates have waged a concerted campaign against it, with the Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband (VZBV), an umbrella body for regional consumer rights associations, calling on Deutsche Telekom to raise data caps so that, in effect, all services can enjoy zero rating.

However, regulator Bundesnetzagentur disagreed and waved through StreamOn since under EU law there was no reason why telcos should not exempt certain services from their data caps. There were a few caveats, notably that to comply with emerging EU roaming regulations the zero-rating had to be transportable to all member states.

So, StreamOn, currently a free added extra used by some 2 million Deutsche Telekom mobile subscribers, must once again change its stripes although any specific changes have not been made public knowledge. We suspect the proposed alterations to the service relate to the throttling element; whereby video quality is reduced to 480p when the 1.7 Mbps bandwidth limit is reached.

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.

There are also suggestions StreamOn could become a paid-for service although it’s not clear how doing so would solve regulatory qualms over net neutrality, so getting Deutsche Telekom to raise data caps appears to be the main goal.

The short summary of this week’s events is that the Higher Administrative Court in Muenster found Deutsche Telekom guilty of violating the EU’s “roam-like-at-home” rule as StreamOn’s free data offering was only valid within Germany, which is exactly what happened in October last year as the Administrative Court of Cologne ruled that StreamOn began eating into subscribers’ mobile data upon entering other EU countries.

At the same time, Deutsche Telekom was again 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. This week’s proceedings are frustratingly similar to previous court decisions as the German court appear to be running around in circles trying to figure out how to lawfully stop StreamOn.

“We will now examine how we deal with the ruling. We expect that the Federal Network Agency will allow the necessary adjustments to be made within a reasonable implementation period. We remain convinced of the legality of StreamOn and will continue to make full use of all legal possibilities in the future,” a spokesperson told Broadband TV News.