Posted by Nicole Rennolds @nicolerenn42
Creator of
Nicole Rennolds

As part of T-Mobile Tuesdays, a weekly giveaway event for all T-Mobile users, it was announced that the mobile company would not be counting Pokemon GO data usage towards customers' data caps. The program was opt-in, meaning you had to specifically sign up to get the free data, and it will last for a year.

It's to be expected that people will complain about literally anything, ESPECIALLY when that thing is free. However, the amount of outrage directed at T-Mobile this week was astounding, with many people claiming that this promotion violates Net Neutrality.

The basic definition of Net Neutrality, according to Google, is "The principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites."

If you don't think about it too hard, I suppose you could take this to mean that T-Mobile is "favoring" Pokemon GO by not counting that app's data usage towards customers' data caps. However, in the context of Net Neutrality, this is false. When they talk about "favoring" a product or website, they mean in terms of speeding up or slowing down that product, or blocking access entirely. T-Mobile is doing neither.

In fact, this is no different than a mobile carrier allowing unlimited Spotify streaming, or a discounted Netflix account, or any other similar promotion. It happens all the time as a way of drawing in new customers, and retaining existing users. As long as they're not promising to speed up Netflix versus Hulu, or block access to Pandora in favor of Spotify, they're not really breaking any rules.

One argument is that, after you hit your data cap, your internet access slows down. By not applying the data cap to Pokemon GO, T-Mobile is essentially allowing that game to work at normal speed while slowing down every other networked app. Again, I understand how people could make this mistake, but that's not exactly what T-Mobile is doing. They're not slowing anything down - those apps would be slow regardless of whether or not you use Pokemon GO. You're hitting your data cap because you're using those other apps. This promotion has nothing to do with that.

So why are people so upset about this Pokemon GO freebie? I have a few theories:

1. People who don't play Pokemon GO, but do play other data-using games, are upset that they don't get to take advantage of the promotion.

It seems petty, but I totally get it. If you play a game like Candy Crush, and you have limited data, you may get frustrated that you frequently hit your monthly cap and the game gets slowed down. But other people get to take advantage of this loophole with Pokemon GO, and that annoys you. It's a completely understandable reaction, though it doesn't mean the Net Neutrality argument makes sense.

2. People are concerned that this will drive consumers towards Pokemon GO, and away from other apps.

This argument is also valid, though it really doesn't have anything to do with Net Neutrality. The entire point of advertising, promotions, and giveaways are to drive customers toward a certain product or service. If that violates Net Neutrality, then we may as well prevent any online company from offering 50% off coupons or buy-one get-one-free promotions. Yes, in this case it's a mobile ISP offering the giveaway, but again, this happens all the time. Where this WOULD create an issue, is if Nintendo were paying T-Mobile for this "zero rating" (the practice of exempting a certain app from data limits). If a company could pay a mobile provider to allow unlimited data usage just for their product, that would create Net Neutrality and anti-trust issues. However, T-Mobile has gone on record stating that “none of our partners or providers pay to be zero-rated.”

3. People who don't understand Net Neutrality but enjoy Internet outrages are jumping on the bandwagon.

I first heard about this whole controversy through a Reddit post on the T-Mobile subreddit. Since Reddit as an online community is infamous for its rabble-rousing, it's no surprise to me that they would be spearheading this particular crusade. What's frustrating about it to me is that many of those who are against this promotion lack a real understanding of Net Neutrality and what it prohibits. Many informational and well documented arguments are being drowned out by comments based solely on anger and group-think. I really feel that if people took the time to research Net Neutrality and the practice of zero rating, they would see that their arguments are flawed.

I don't claim to be an expert on Net Neutrality. I am, however, a sysadmin and network engineer who spends an embarrassing amount of my free time researching the politics of technology, including Net Neutrality and internet free-speech issues. I'm a huge supporter of Net Neutrality and I've actively protested against companies who have lobbied for the SOPA and PIPA bills. To me, though, it seems obvious that T-Mobile is not breaking any rules with this giveaway. And, to be clear, this promotion doesn't really affect me in any way. I don't play Pokemon GO very often, and though I'm a T-Mobile customer, I have an unlimited data plan that does not throttle my internet usage in any way. So I have nothing to gain (or lose) by defending the practice of zero rating as it relates to this or any other service.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Feel free to comment below letting me know whether you agree with me or think I'm a moron!