New FCC Boss Kills Zero Rating Inquiry, Signals Death Of Net Neutrality Enforcement

from the not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper dept

Surprising nobody, new FCC boss Ajit Pai used a flurry of late-Friday announcements to roll back a number of consumer-friendly FCC initiatives the former Verizon lawyer (and the large ISPs that already love him) didn’t like. Among them was the Wheeler-led FCC’s attempt to crack down on zero rating, the practice of an ISP exempting its own content from its own arbitrary usage caps, while still penalizing competitors. The former FCC had just belatedly ruled that both AT&T and Verizon’s zero rating efforts were anti-consumer, anti-competitive, and dramatically damaged the open streaming video market.

That was then, and this is now.

This new, Pai-led FCC wasted no time sending AT&T, Verizon and Comcast letters (pdf) proclaiming that all FCC inquiries into the anti-competitive impact of zero rating have been dropped. In a brief statement (pdf) issued to the media, Pai went so far as to imply he was doing this not because it’s what giant ISPs wanted — but because of a selfless dedication to the poor:

“Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”

You’ll find that taking an anti-consumer position on something, then insisting it was only done to aid the downtrodden, will be a common refrain from this new Pai-led FCC. In reality, zero rating data doesn’t create “free data plans,” it simply shifts the cost burden onto streaming video providers — or more accurately, the customers of streaming video providers. Those customers suddenly face having to pay more money for competing services, which naturally funnels them to the streaming services of AT&T (DirecTV Now), Verizon (Go90), or Comcast (Stream TV).

ISPs like AT&T and Verizon had tried to argue that disadvantaging competitors in this fashion wasn’t a big deal, because those companies could pay AT&T and Verizon a steep and unnecessary surcharge to cap-exempt their services too, putting themselves back on equal footing with ISPs. Given that many smaller companies couldn’t afford such tolls, the former FCC’s report (pdf) made it clear that this structure would be abused by giant, incumbent gatekeepers:

“Thus, it would appear that AT&T’s practices inflict significant unreasonable disadvantages on edge providers and unreasonably interfere with their ability to compete against AT&T’s affiliate, DIRECTV, The structure of Verizon’s FreeBee Data 360 program raises similar concerns. We are aware of no safeguards that would prevent Verizon from offering substantially more costly or restrictive terms to enable unaffiliated edge providers to offer services comparable to Verizon’s affiliated content on a zero-rated basis.

Again, for those confused, zero rating is simply incumbent duopolists using a lack of competition in broadband to impose arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps, then (ab)using those caps to dramatically tilt the playing field in their favor. Full stop. Zero rating has absolutely nothing to do with helping “low income Americans,” innovation or “expanding broadband deployment,” and Pai’s claims to the contrary are transparent and insulting.

There’s more than a little cognitive dissonance required in insisting you’re a stalwart defender of “free markets,” then immediately turning a blind eye to the demolition of a level streaming video playing field by giant, lumbering monopolists. And, of course, this is just the opening salvo in the latest battle against net neutrality; while Pai gets to work refusing to enforce the agency’s existing FCC rules, the GOP is getting to work on a Communications Act rewrite that will not only kill the net neutrality rules, but defang and defund the FCC as a consumer watchdog altogether.

If you actually give a flying damn about net neutrality, broadband competition and a healthy, open internet — 2017 is going to desperately need your help.

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Companies: at&t, verizon

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Comments on “New FCC Boss Kills Zero Rating Inquiry, Signals Death Of Net Neutrality Enforcement”

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PaulT (profile) says:


It’s a sad state of affairs when the facts of the matter are only relevant if you label it in a certain way..

Regardless, the problem with your suggestion is that the current label is accurate – it’s to ensure the network treats all data neutrally. Introduce “fairness”, and that implies that somebody is making a decision on how fairly data is treated, which is the opposite of what we want. Plus, some echo chambers have whined about the “fairness doctrine” for so long that the term would be poisoned politically.

Anonymous Coward says:


What do you have when you have a regulator body lead by an awesome and caring individual?

What do you have when you have a regulatory body lead by and inconsiderate ass, jerk, paid whore, industry schmuck?

What do you get when you have a regulatory body that is just lukewarm?

Seems to be that 2/3 rds of the time regulators are going to be busy fucking you over. So far I have only seen it 100% of the time but hey… I might be a little biased!

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe the government should sell naming rights!

“Ajit Pai, Inaugural Verizon Chair of the Federal Communications Commission” has a nice ring to it.

In fact, this could be done for many parts of government.
– The Rio Tinto Secretary of the Interior
– The JPMorgan Chase Secretary of the Treasury
– The Academi Secretary of Defense

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It would be better to say “appointed by”. It implies that some corporate power behind the scenes is doing the appointment and that the orange clown is really a puppet whose strings are pulled from behind the stage.

Ajit Pai, the Verizon appointment to the FCC.

In general:

${paid-lobbyist}, the ${corporation} appointment to the ${office}.

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you are suggesting that ISPs may be cutting off poor people to save money, that may not be so.

1. It might cost an ISP less than $10 a month to provide basic service that poor people could get a $10 subsidy for.

2. Even if it doesn’t save the ISPs money, they might just want to cut off poor people for pure simple spite. Because they are poor. This would not conflict with the corporate values of most big ISPs.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Because they don’t need to be that blatant when they could show just a smidgen of guile and get the same result.

If they just come out and say ‘You can’t go to site/service X’ then they’re not getting any extra money, and that might be blatant enough for the next FCC boss(at this point I’m pretty the companies could hold a press conference to admit that the caps are unneeded, purely profit-based, and used to squeeze the competition and Pai would still defend them) and/or politician to do something about.

If they impose arbitrary and unnecessary caps on the other hand and tell people ‘Sure you can go to site/service X, just don’t use it too much or you’re going to be charged extra. On the other hand you can freely use the services that we own or that have paid us and not have to worry about that’ then they’re providing some not-insignificant pressure on people to not use a particular site/service, even if they aren’t blocking it entirely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Still makes no sense.

Limiting the internet to a degree that people are unable to use it would be self defeating.

The discussion goes off the rails because you think that in order to make a selected service zero rated that they must first harm every other service. Zero rating us on top of and not taking away from current service levels

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

You have not been watching what is happening very carefully have you, the ISP’s are introducing data caps, which limits use of services, and then removing them for favored, 1.e.. their own and affiliates content. First they introduced a means of control, artificial limits on data usage, (as distinct from congestion causing a flow restriction occasionally), and then they use that control to distort how people see the Internet; consume as much of our favored content as you like, and be careful about how much of any other content you consume lest you get a huge bill, or have even the zero rated content throttled as punishment for using too much of the competing content.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Still makes no sense.

Limiting the internet to a degree that people are unable to use it would be self defeating.

The intent isn’t to limit the entire internet, just the parts that aren’t paying them extra by making those parts count against the arbitrary caps they impose.

When customers are presented with two options, one that does count against their cap and thus stands to cost them money if they use it ‘too much’, and another that doesn’t count against the cap and therefore can be used as much as desired with no potential overage fees, the latter has a significant advantage.

When a service is presented with the ultimatum of "You either pay us to get ‘cap exempt’ status or your competitor(which may or may not be us), which has paid us for that status is going to scoop up all your customers" they either pay or go under, giving enormous power to the one setting the caps and issuing the ultimatums.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Block and cut off completely? No. Throttle some sites so that they’re unusable without paying a premium, while allowing only sites that benefit the ISP to be available at a decent speed to lower paying customers? Absolutely.

In practice, it’s the same thing, but there’s weasel ways to pretend they’re not. Until net neutrality goes completely, of course, then they won’t have to pretend any more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

pessimist or not, Congress/House are the only agencies in the land allowed to create law. Not the president and not any agency.

We do need to really start holding our congress critters more responsible for this shit, but no one will because every member of congress uses their corruption to keep their local happy. and if you can keep them happy, you can be about a s corrupt as you need to keep your seat. It only becomes a problem when your locals are at odds with the party that gives you your marching orders.

The state of affairs in America are so horrid, I am not certain any citizen, but the most few of us, have a full grasp on it all. Most do not realize it, but were the founding fathers sudden resurrected, they would already be stoking the flames of war to as the declaration of Independence puts it… “to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Dave Cortright (profile) says:

Vote with your ISP dollars

I’ll state up front that this isn’t possible in many areas of the country. However here in the SF Bay Area we thankfully have several ISP options that don’t engage in what John Oliver called “ISP fuckery”. I personally use Sonic, but MonkeyBrains and WebPass are also worthy options.

I know you are a news site and not necessarily an advocacy platform, but you did do advocacy for SOPA. Maybe this is another issue worthy of giving your readers a call to action.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Vote with your ISP dollars

You must be new here… TD is a staunch supporter of Free and Open internet. They are very anti SOPA, TTIP, TPP, and similar bullshit.

I do disagree with their supported solutions to some problems but the clowns here are alright with me! Hell, they have even asked me to leave a few times but I keep coming back!

I like them far more than they like me! Likely because I am not as biased as them, but hey… no one is perfect!

Anonymous Coward says:

we must protect Net Neutrality if you want to help protect it you should support groups like ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press who are fighting to keep Net Neutrality.

also you can set them as your charity on

also write to your House Representative and senators

and the FCC

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