What Net Neutrality? While The FCC Naps, AT&T Now Exempting DirecTV Content From Wireless Usage Caps

from the slippery-slopes dept

When the FCC crafted its new net neutrality rules, we noted that the agency’s failure to ban “zero rating” (exempting your own company’s content from usage caps) was going to be a problem. And lo and behold, with the FCC AWOL on the subject, companies are starting to take full advantage. Verizon and Comcast now exempt their own streaming video services from usage caps without penalty, while companies like T-Mobile and Sprint have launched new confusing and punitive data plans that throttle games, music and video content — unless users pay a premium.

These were all concepts net neutrality rules were supposed to prevent. But because the FCC’s rules didn’t go quite far enough, we’re effectively looking at rules that make net neutrality violations ok — provided you’re just a little bit creative about it.

Outside of the vague promise of an “information inquiry” that began last January, the FCC hasn’t said much of anything as ISPs test the limits of the existing rules and pretty much finds that so far — there really aren’t any. Encouraged by the FCC’s apathy on the subject, AT&T this week quietly began exempting DirecTV video content from its usage caps after buying the satellite TV provider last year for $69 billion. A quiet update to the DirecTV app indicates that the company is now pushing this as a new “data free TV” option”:

AT&T is getting into the messy business of zero-rating, offering wireless data subscribers the opportunity to stream video from the DirecTV mobile app with no data costs at all. According to update notes from the latest version of the app released today, users can “stream DirecTV on your devices, anywhere ? without using your data.”

This promise was tested by Verge staff this morning, who were able to play DirecTV content on their mobile without any noticeable impact to their data allowance. However, the release notes for the app warn that there are restrictions. Under some unspecified circumstances users may still “incur data charges,” says DirecTV, and any free video streaming is subject to “network management, including speed reduction.”

Much like T-Mobile’s Binge On efforts (which zero rate only the biggest video services) the idea of getting something for “free” sounds wonderful upon superficial inspection. At least until you realize that AT&T’s decision to give its own content an unfair leg up in this fashion puts its competitors, like Netflix and Amazon, at a distinct disadvantage. That’s why so many people had urged the FCC to follow India, Japan, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, The Netherlands, and Chile’s approach to net neutrality rules and ban zero rating entirely.

The FCC didn’t, and thanks to its failure, we now face a scenario where net neutrality can be trampled without repercussion — and may even be celebrated by the press and public — provided you just use the right shade of public relations paint.

And there’s every indication AT&T’s just getting started. This particular announcement (made on Apple product announcement day to capitalize on the tech media’s distraction) was just AT&T dipping its toe into the zero rating water. The company plans to launch three different streaming services under the DirecTV brand later this year, and you can be fairly sure that AT&T intends to use zero rating to give all of them a distinct, and notably unfair, market advantage.

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Companies: at&t, directv

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Comments on “What Net Neutrality? While The FCC Naps, AT&T Now Exempting DirecTV Content From Wireless Usage Caps”

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25 Comments
PRMan (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Not to defend AT&T (I feel dirty just typing that), but this is the easiest argument to make.

If DirecTV is on their own network, and not going across the internet, AT&T doesn’t have to pay their ISP for that traffic.

This is EXACTLY why we need true net neutrality, because it will always be cheaper to stream your own stuff and that naturally tends toward lack of competition.

DigDuggery says:

Re: Re: Re:

Convert all Cellular, Satellite, Copper and Fiber based backbone and last mile communications equipment into common carrier, open to anyone to use for a small monthly fee that goes into the upgrade/upkeep funds.

The upkeep and upgrade pool would be used to handle upgrading and extending the networks.

Watch the race to zero by the 500 new “providers” that spawn from the opened common carrier equipment.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If DirecTV is on their own network, and not going across the internet, AT&T doesn’t have to pay their ISP for that traffic.

AT&T doesn’t pay their ISP for traffic (unless things have really changed in that business,) AT&T likely has peering agreements with most, if not all, of their interconnections, and as a result, they don’t pay to move traffic back and forth, and only pay for the care and feeding of the connection itself. AT&T might have to pay to upgrade connections or add more, but they don’t pay for the traffic.

DigDuggery says:

Re: Re: Net neutrality?

Oh, so sorry, you’re a Dish Network customer, and you’ve watched 6 hours of programming through your internet connection.

Here’s our “screw you for not using directv fee” of 99.99 per kilobyte of transmitted data.

Or, to more closely match how AT&T would put it.

Oh, sorry there, if you’d used DirectTV, you’d have qualified for the $100.00 per month service discount.
However, you chose Dish Network instead, so you don’t get the discount.

clemahieu (profile) says:

Bad plan to start with

The same sequence happens every time we try to simulate free markets with government:

1) law passes that sounds good
2) people move on to next political topic
3) industry comes in and modifies laws to suit their own needs
4) people aren’t paying attention and let it happen

People have a limited political time budget and they **will not pay attention** after they move on to the next issue.

Focusing on dismantling laws around industry restrictions I.e. Monopoly cable laying will yield far better results.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Bad plan to start with

The problem isn’t so much the law as the fact that it didn’t go far enough, and the enforcement of it has been completely lacking.

The industry in question didn’t have to modify anything since the FCC, in listening to their whining made the monumentally stupid decision to leave a gaping loophole for the companies to exploit by not entirely prohibiting zero-rating.

Whatever says:

Karl, you need to get over it and understand a simple rule:

Net Neutrality does not apply to content delivered internal to a given ISPs network, only to the interconnections.

When you understand where the line is drawn and where stuff is measured, you will understand why the FCC isn’t napping, they are just staying in their jurisdiction.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Net Neutrality does not apply to content delivered internal to a given ISPs network, only to the interconnections.

This is not true.

Net Neutrality, in its purest form, means that the network in question does not know or care what the data traveling over it is, or where that data comes from or is going to; all the network cares about is how to most efficiently get the data to the place where it exits that network, on its way to whatever its final destination may be. The next hop may be another network, or it may be the machine which is the final destination; again, a neutral network neither knows nor cares which.

If the ISP is checking the in-flight data enough to be able to tell whether or not it is from an internal source, the ISP is already violating the principle that the network should be neutral.

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