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T-Mobile offers free Pokémon Go data for a year, but not everyone is happy about it

Ian Paul | July 18, 2016
T-Mobile keeps on giving the people what they want.

Critics are already arguing that it does. Net neutrality is the basic concept that no single type of Internet traffic should be prioritized over another. The Federal Communications Commission began enforcing its own version of net neutrality rules in early 2015, and they were recently upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

If you look at the FCC rules, T-Mobile’s PokéMarketing doesn’t quite break them, but it arguably violates the spirit of net neutrality.

The FCC’s rules are designed to prevent mobile and broadband providers from blocking, throttling, or offering paid prioritization for specific content. Under the rules, Comcast can’t charge extra to get faster, higher-quality video streams from Hulu, for example.

But T-Mobile isn’t really doing anything like that. It’s not letting you hit Pokémon Go's servers any faster than other games, it’s not throttling your access to Pokémon Go or other content, and it’s not blocking similar games. It’s just not charging you for data usage when you play Pokémon Go—a tactic known as zero-rating.

The problem, some critics say, is that by not charging for Pokémon Go you are effectively making it more expensive to play other games online. While Pokémon Go is free, other games that need an Internet connection will hit your data bucket, which could make people shy away from them when they can get Pokémon Go data for free.

Going further, that could then put T-Mobile in a position to become a gatekeeper of sorts where it gets to choose what data gets through for free and what doesn’t—at least for its customers. That’s a problem with zero-rating that the Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out earlier in 2016.

Right now, however, the arguments against T-Mobile’s promotion are all about what could happen as a result, but there’s not yet a lot of demonstrable harm. 

There is a chance that T-Mobile’s Pokémon promotion could get dinged by the FCC, but the company hasn’t really suffered any serious repercussions over its much larger free video streaming program, Binge On. So don't expect to see any repercussions from Pokémon Go.


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