FCC Is 'Deeply Troubled' By Verizon Wireless's New Throttling Plans
from the not-so-fast-with-that-'network-optimization' dept
Earlier this week, we wrote about the ridiculousness of Verizon Wireless refering to its new plans to throttle heavy users of its LTE mobile data network as “network optimization” while denying that it was “throttling.” However, in a bit of a surprise move, FCC chair Tom Wheeler has sent a rather angry letter to the company, questioning the plan:
I am deeply troubled by your July 25, 2014 announcement that Verizon Wireless intends to slow down some customers’ data speeds on your 4G LTE network starting in October 20 14. Your website explained that this was an extension of your “Network Optimization” policy, which, according to your website, applies only to customers with unlimited data plans. Specifically, Verizon Wireless “manage[s] data connection speeds for a small subset of customers – the top 5% of data users on unlimited data plans” in places and at times when the network is experiencing high demand. Verizon Wireless describes its “Network Optimization” as “network management.”
“Reasonable network management” concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its “network management” on distinctions among its customers’ data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology. The Commission has defined a network management practice to be reasonable “if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.” Such legitimate network management purposes could include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing traffic that is unwanted by end users (including by premise operators), such as by providing services or capabilities consistent with an end user’s choices regarding parental controls or security capabilities; and reducing or mitigating the effects of congestion on the network. I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as “reasonable network management” a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for “unlimited” service.
The letter then has a list of questions it is expecting Verizon to answer concerning this program. The third question may be the most important:
How does Verizon Wireless justify this policy consistent with its continuing obligations under the 700 MHz C Block open platform rules, under which Verizon Wireless may not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of end users to download and utilize applications of their choosing on the C Block networks; how can this conduct be justified under the Commission’s 2010 Open Internet rules, including the transparency rule that remains in effect?
This is, in some ways, a follow up to Wheeler’s letter last week, in which he reminded access providers of those transparency rules. Wheeler has shown, a few times, that he’s willing to speak up against the actions of some of the broadband companies, which is a shift from previous FCC chairs. Of course, many are still reasonably skeptical about how much bite there is behind the bark, but it’s at least a marginally good sign that he’s paying attention and worried about this plan.
Still, remember, that the “open internet rules” leave out wireless networks, a massive loophole that many of us warned about all along. However, in the current proposal, Wheeler did ask about whether the rules should extend to mobile operators as well, and this letter is a pretty clear signal that he sees very clear reasons to include such networks in the final rules.