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Is T-Mobile's Music Freedom Really Free?

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Is T-Mobile's Music Freedom Really Free?

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This past Monday, T-Mobile announced that it was adding even more music streaming apps to its list of music players currently covered by its Music Freedom plan. Music Freedom is a service offered to all T-Mobile plans that allows customers to freely stream without data limitations (with the exception of roaming). According to Tech Crunch’s Sarah Perez, this is the full list of what’s been added:

  • Google Play Music

  • Xbox Music

  • SoundCloud

  • RadioTunes

  • Digitally Imported

  • Fit Radio

  • Fresca Radio

  • Jazz Radio

  • Live365

  • Mad Genius Radio

  • radioPup

  • radio.com

  • ROCKRADIO


These apps join the list of others already joined up with T-Mobile, including Pandora, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Rhapsody, and Spotify. The announcement is another board in T-Mobile’s platform to set itself apart, aggressively campaigning against its competitors with such offers as paying off your contract should you decide to switch providers and unlimited talk, text and data for all of its plans. In T-Mobile CEO John Legere’s words: T-Mobile is the “uncarrier” carrier.

But is it really all free?

The addition of more music streaming came a day before the FCC’s pressure on T-Mobile for more data transparency made headway. According to CNET:

Once T-Mobile customers exhaust their allotment of data, instead of being billed overage charges, their speeds are reduced for the remainder of their billing cycle. As spelled out in T-Mobile's service agreement, customers' speeds are reduced to either 128kbs or 64kbs, depending on their data plan.

Use of certain speed test applications were exempted from T-Mobile's monthly data allotments in June, but the results were not always clearly presented, the FCC said. Rather than report the actual reduced speed being provided to customers, the exempted speed tests would return information about T-Mobile's full network speed, preventing customers from receiving accurate information about their speeds.

In response, T-Mobile has complied, agreeing to send out text messages to users with speed tests so they know exactly what they’re getting. That way, users can accurately see their mobile speed on their own device rather than rely on T-Mobile, and will get a full assessment of where their money is going.

In addition to concerns about data transparency, there have been some questions raised about T-Mobile’s plans and net neutrality. Says Perez:

While seemingly a good deal for consumers, the launch of the feature did raise some net neutrality-related questions about T-Mobile’s ability to play “gatekeeper” to these streaming music services.* By only selecting a handful of the top players at launch, T-Mobile may have made it more difficult for smaller, niche services to compete while trying to reach T-Mobile’s 49.1 million customers.

Similarly, the Verge’s Chris Ziegler questions if T-Mobile will just stop at selective music streaming:

[I]t's a terribly slippery slope: T-Mobile has decided, arbitrarily, that some of the data traveling over its pipes should count against a cap, while other data should not. What's to stop it from using data cap exemptions as a punitive measure against content providers that aren't on good terms with T-Mobile (or its parent company Deutsche Telekom)?

T-Mobile’s Music Freedom, while purportedly something for the people (and even with some snazzy, edgy, pseudo-punk marketing that looks like Don Draper sat down with Johnny Rotten), is essentially holding us all hostage. Whether you’re a developer or a customer, the apps that are chosen for Music Freedom aren’t really free choice at all, it’s just an exercise in cultural hegemony.

Never Mind the Bollocks (left) and T-Mobile (right)


Marx’s theory has played out pretty clearly in capitalism, as any rebellion becomes absorbed as a commodity at some point (think Vogue magazine’s Met Ball with a so-called punk theme; what’s with all the punk rip offs nowadays?). In the case of T-Mobile, you think you’re getting freedom of choice, but really, all your options are chosen for you and, therefore, were never your decisions to begin with.

If T-Mobile really wants to free our music, it should give an unlimited amount of data for streaming all music no matter the app (and not that supposedly “unlimited” data they tout that slows down to an obscure speed once you go past your limit, which means it’s not limitless). Plus, while we’re at it, you should really only call something “unlimited” if it really truly doesn’t have restrictions. Otherwise, you’re no better than your competitors.

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