Summary:

The country’s economics and technology minister has reportedly urged Telekom to watch its step, after the telco announced caps for fixed-line users. Thing is, usage of Telekom’s own entertainment services won’t count towards those caps.

Deutsche Telekom's head office in Bonn, Germany

Users of Deutsche Telekom’s mobile services are used to the concept of data caps, but its fixed-line customers? Not so much. This is part of the reason why the German government is reportedly upset about the telco’s plans to drop flat-rate pricing for its DSL services – the most alarming part, however, is that Telekom apparently wants to exempt its own services from the cap.

We’re into classic net neutrality territory here. As the company announced a few days ago, Telekom’s customers will be able to stream films from the carrier’s own T-Entertain service without any problem, but streaming a film from a rival would count towards the cap – effectively meaning Telekom’s caps will discriminate in favor of its own products. And all services, activists argue, should be treated equally on the open internet.

Concerned citizens have already set up a Change.org petition that has garnered around 30,000 signatures at the time of writing, but now the German government itself has weighed in. This isn’t just a regulatory thing – the government is Telekom’s biggest shareholder, too.

Der Spiegel claims to have seen a letter from Philip Rösler, the federal economics and technology minister, to Deutsche Telekom chief Rene Obermann, in which Rösler warns that the government and competition regulators will “very carefully follow ongoing developments with regard to a possible differential treatment of [Telekom's] own and rival services under the aspect of net neutrality.”

In a statement, Telekom claimed that “net neutrality is partly confused in the debate with a free internet culture” and that “T-Entertain is not a regular internet service, but a television service for which the customers pay separately.”

“Regular internet services are not subject to discrimination,” Telekom added, while noting that the alternative to introducing the caps would have been to raise the flat-rate tariffs for all customers.

Discriminatory caps

Telekom’s proposed changes work like this: customers on the slowest DSL lines (up to 16Mbps) will get capped at 75GB a month; those on up-to-50Mbps plans will face a 200GB cap; an up-to-100Mbps plan will max out at 300GB; and an up-to-200Mbps plan at 400GB. After that, speeds will be throttled to 384Kbps, although customers could also pay extra for more usage at normal speeds. The carrier claims its customers typically use 15-20GB a month.

On the face of it, these caps do appear reasonable, given the data volumes consumed by the average user, and they are supposedly aimed at stopping people from consuming extremely high data volumes at the standard rate — Telekom says only 3 percent of its customers will be affected. However, as those in the telecoms industry know all too well, data usage is only going one way: up, up, up.

Ultimately, it’s the principle of the thing that seems to be the problem here. Once you establish a precedent that certain services can be freely used while others cannot, you potentially raise the barriers to entry for new players. After all, with Telekom being Germany’s biggest ISP, would you set up a competitor to T-Entertain once the discriminatory caps are in place?

Yes, Germans are already used to data caps on mobile, and indeed Telekom itself has a cellular-centric agreement with Spotify that exempts traffic from that service from counting towards caps for customers on certain tariffs. The principle is already broken there. However, the way out of that for a Telekom mobile user who favors a rival to Spotify, is to offload as much traffic as they can onto their home Wi-Fi connection. If they’re also with Telekom for fixed-line services, as many are, now they’re going to face caps there too.

So, with traffic volumes set to keep on growing on all fronts, it’s not hard to see why many of Telekom’s critics are spoiling for a fight.

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