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.