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Rusty Hodge: Unfairness in T-Mobile’s unmetered music streaming

Rusty Hodge is founder and general manager of SomaFM, one of the most enduring and successful pureplay Internet radio outlets. Started in 2000, SomaFM now operates 20 stations, of which Groove Salad is perhaps the best known. In this guest column, he proposes that T-Mobile’s unmetered music-streaming initiative is unfair to independent online radio stations, possibly violates net neutrality principles, and can be solved.


rusty hodge contributor logo 250wT-Mobile is now offering a new feature to their customers: unmetered data to the “Major” music services.

During the launch event, T-Mobile’s CEO John Legere “assured the audience that their initial pick for streaming services wasn’t any sort of competitive/business move. Rather, it was a matter of technical implementation, which is why they picked 8 services to start with: Pandora, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify and Milk Music.”

Legere said the goal is to include all streaming services by letting their customers vote on what services get added next.

According to SoundExchange, there are 2500+ licensed online radio streaming services. Currently, T-Mobile’s poll asking users for what streaming services they want included in the free bandwidth includes: Prime Music, Beats Music, Google Access Music, Grooveshark, Jango Radio, Last.FM, Rdio, Sirius XM, Sony Music, Soundcloud, TuneIn Radio and Xbox Music. (The inclusion of TuneIn Radio is strange from a technical viewpoint, as they’re not a streaming service but rather a online radio gateway/discovery service. Streams do not come from TuneIn, they come from the individual webcasters.)

According to T-Mobile’s FAQ, there is an email address where other music services can contact them to request inclusion in the program. “Any lawful and licensed streaming music service can work with us for inclusion in this offer.”

On casual reading this seems fair and great for consumers. But by initially including only a very small percentage of streaming services, it reinforces the major streaming services at the expense of smaller and independent webcasters.

This is also the exact thing that net-neutrality supporters have been afraid of: preferential treatment by the larger players at the expense of the independent and smaller broadcasters.

Perhaps T-Mobile is going to do the right thing, and it’s just off to a slow start. But right now any webcaster not on the T-Mobile approved list is going to feel the pain as audiences listen more to the services with free bandwidth, than services with which they have to use up their bandwidth.

If T-Mobile’s reason for not including all services is technical, why don’t they “whitelist” streaming protocols instead of IP addresses? In other words, T-Mobile phones could recognize streaming music from any source, not just pre-set sources corresponding to approved services.

Brad Hill

53 Comments

  1. Fair points all. And your “white-list” scheme seems like a no-brainer. Asking for submission suggestions and subsequent qualifiers begs the question, what exactly does the phrase “work with us” mean? Possible that “club dues” are involved? If so, I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with that…it’s just business right? 😉

  2. Dude, YOU of all people should be trumpeting the far flung use of multicasting, yeah‽ This move just might convince Hells’ Bells to copy magenta — yet again.

    It’s 2014, high time for the carriers to suck it up and pay it forward.

    And while we’re at it, let’s make multicast support a non-negotiable loophole-free condition for allowing the Kabletown + TWC transaction.

    Boy wouldn’t that be NICE.

  3. What I find interesting is that T-Mobile conflates radio and music. They are different. It is intriguing that they include TuneIn because many of their stations are spoken word radio.

    It would be great if T-Mobile included many more services. Perhaps this will be like Apple’s initial announcement of the iTunes Store. Lots of music but not everything. Over time more and more music was added to make the store pretty complete.

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