Three UK launches first UK zero rated data offer

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

CK Hutchison's UK mobile arm unveils "Go Binge", which allows its customers to access Netflix, TV Player, Deezer or Soundcloud without using up their data allowances

CK Hutchison’s UK mobile arm Three has announced a new offer that will zero rate a number of content services on its network.

In what is one of the UK’s first zero rated data plans, Three customers signed up to Go Binge will be able to stream content from Netflix, TV Player, Deezer or Soundcloud without using their data allowances.

Zero rating – the practice not charging end customers for data used by specific applications or internet services – has proven controversial, with critics expressing concerns it is not in line with the principles of net neutrality.

European Union net neutrality rules, proposed by the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) last year, allow for zero rated tariffs if they meet certain conditions. A source close to Three told GTB the network was confident the tariff was within the regulations.

On the key issue of zero-rating, the guidance stressed some practices, such as accessing a customer service website to buy more data, should be allowed. This was changed from the original guidance, which banned the practice entirely, following industry feedback. 

The guidance also dictated that traffic and network management can only be used as an argument against net neutrality “under limited circumstances”. Any throttling and traffic management that interferes with or slows down services is banned.

Three’s Go Binge offer will only be available to customers who are on an eligible plan, although these customers will also be free to opt-out, a key component of making sure the offer is in line with European regulations. 

The service will provide all-you-can-eat (AYCE) streaming access to the four featured services on new Advanced Plans of 4GB and above for as long as customers have some regular data left in their monthly allowance.

Three said it has released the new tariff to meet an “explosion” of binge-watching and content streaming. A poll carried out by the operator found that one in five Brits say binge-watching is the only way they watch a TV series, with 40% worried about streaming on the go due to the demand on data allowances.

Dave Dyson, Chief Executive at Three, said: “We know that from our extensive insight that bingeing on content has become part of everyday life, yet people have been unable to do that on the go as much as they’d like due to fears of exceeding data limits.

“It’s my ambition to unlock any restrictions that stop consumers from enjoying their mobiles and using them to do the things they love. With Go Binge we are the first network in the UK to give people the freedom to use their data to stream their favourite shows and music without any boundaries and without worrying about restrictive data allowances and charges.”

GTB understands that Three has held discussions with a number of other content providers about signing up to the scheme, although these were not disclosed as they are commercially sensitive.

The package is reminiscent of similar services that have been launched in other markets. T-Mobile US, for example, offers a service called BingeOn, which allows video streaming without using data. This was given the thumbs up by the Federal Communications Commission, despite AT&T and Verizon both previously facing investigations over their own zero rated deals. These investigations have now been canned as FCC chair Ajit Pai seeks to repeal net neutrality rules introduced by his predecessor.

Another Deutsche Telekom-owned op-co, T-Mobile Netherlands, also offers a zero-rated product, giving users the ability to stream music without using their data allowances. This drew the ire of The Dutch Authority for Consumer and Market which ordered the operator to suspend the service.

DCM also imposed a fine of €50,000 but T-Mobile took the case to the courts in Rotterdam, which found that zero rated services are allowed by European net neutrality rules.

It is yet to be seen how UK regulators will interpret the rule regarding Three’s new offer, but given the ruling from the Dutch court, it may be that the offer goes unchallenged.

One other concern raised was the impact it might have on Three’s other offers; namely its unlimited data package. A Three source assured GTB that it has no plans to ditch this package, instead offering the new Go Binge tariff alongside existing plans.