FCC Gives T-Mobile A Talking To For Exempting Speedtests From Caps, Preventing Users From Seeing They'd Been Throttled
from the just-deliver-our-bits-and-get-out-of-the-way dept
While T-Mobile has been doing a lot of consumer friendly things lately, we’ve noted repeatedly that many of these behaviors are somewhat superficial, despite oodles of press adoration for the company’s admittedly highly entertaining CEO John Legere. Under the surface, some of what T-Mobile is up to isn’t that different from the companies T-Mobile ridicules (AT&T, Verizon). Not only has the company not really been eager to compete on price, it has shown repeatedly that it doesn’t think much of net neutrality or Title II reclassification, despite being a self-professed consumer BFF.
In addition to not understanding (or not caring) how the company’s Music Freedom plan sets a horrible precedent, T-Mobile found itself under fire earlier this year for its decision to exempt speedtests from the company’s arbitrary usage caps. Why? Unlike the overage fees charged by AT&T and Verizon, T-Mobile throttles users to 64 or 128 kbps after users reach their monthly allotments. Groups like Public Knowledge complained back in July that by exempting speedtests from T-Mobile caps, throttled customers weren’t able to tell that they were throttled:
“By exempting speed tests from the throttling, T-Mobile is effectively preventing consumers from learning exactly how slow their throttled connections are. Under the new policy, T-Mobile customers who exceed their data caps will not be able to gauge the actual speeds available to them for the vast majority of their daily usage.”
T-Mobile responded by claiming that the carrier was only trying to help consumers by making speedtests (which don’t use much data to begin with) cap exempt. But that logic is a slippery slope and a cop out. If you’re setting arbitrary caps and then exempting music services and speedtests, why not Techdirt podcasts? Why not TurboTax? Why not city municipal services? Government websites? Again, it sets a bad precedent for a wireless carrier to erect artificial, arbitrary barriers, then begin fiddling with what specific services can (or can’t) more easily bypass these hurdles.
The FCC appears to have heard Public Knowledge’s concerns, and this week announced (pdf) that the agency had worked with T-Mobile on an agreement requiring the carrier to clarify its throttling practices. According to the FCC, T-Mobile has sixty days to clarify throttling practices on its websites, provide access to speedtests that show a user’s throttled state, and begin sending clear text messages to consumers alerting them when they’ve reached their monthly data allotments. Says the FCC:
“The FCC is committed to ensuring that broadband providers are transparent to consumers. I?m grateful T-Mobile has worked with the FCC to ensure that its customers are better informed about the speeds they are experiencing,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. ?Consumers need this information to fully understand what they are getting with their broadband service.”
Of course, ensuring companies are “transparent” is one thing, and protecting the integrity of a neutral network is something else entirely. The FCC has made it repeatedly clear they see efforts like T-Mobile’s Music Freedom and AT&T’s Sponsored Data as “pricing creativity” during the neutrality rulemaking process, which should concern anybody interested in a healthy Internet. Meanwhile, T-Mobile wants to be seen as the ultra-hip, fun cousin of the telecom scene, but it apparently hopes nobody will notice that many of its behaviors aren’t all that different from its dodgy, drunk uncles, AT&T and Verizon. If T-Mobile really wants to be seen as truly consumer friendly? Just deliver our bits and get the hell out of the way.