Reddit, Mozilla, Others Urge FCC To Formally Investigate Broadband Usage Caps And Zero Rating

from the get-off-your-duff dept

We've noted how the FCC's latest net neutrality rules do a lot of things right, but they failed to seriously address zero rating or broadband usage caps, opening the door to ISPs violently abusing net neutrality -- just as long as they're relatively clever about it. And plenty of companies have been walking right through that open door. Both Verizon and Comcast for example now exempt their own streaming services from these caps, giving them an unfair leg up in the marketplace. AT&T meanwhile is now using usage caps to force customers to subscribe to TV services if they want to enjoy unlimited data.

In each instance you've got companies using usage caps for clear anti-competitive advantage, while industry-associated think tanks push misleading studies and news outlet editorials claiming that zero rating's a great boon to consumers and innovation alike.

The FCC's net neutrality rules don't ban usage caps or zero rating, unlike rules in Chile, Slovenia, Japan, India, Norway and The Netherlands. The FCC did however state that the agency would examine such practices on a "case by case" basis under the "general conduct" portion of the rules. But so far, that has consisted of closed door meetings and a casual, informal letter sent to a handful of carriers as part of what the FCC says is an "information exercise," not a formal inquiry.

But in a letter sent to FCC Commissioners (pdf) this week, a coalition of companies including Yelp, Vimeo, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Medium, Mozilla and Reddit have urged the agency to launch a more formal -- but also transparent -- probe of ISP behavior on this front:
"Zero­ rating profoundly affects Internet users' choices. Giving ISPs the power to favor some sites or services over others would let ISPs pick winners and losers online—precisely what the Open Internet rules exist to prevent...Given how many stakeholders participated in the process to make these rules, including nearly 4 million members of the public, it would be unacceptable not to seek and incorporate broad input and expertise at this critical stage."
Given the FCC's decision to ban usage caps at Charter as a merger condition, the agency is clearly aware of the threat zero rating and caps pose to a healthy Internet. It's possible the FCC is waiting for the courts to settle the broadband industry's lawsuit against the FCC, which could gut some or all of the net neutrality rules. But it's also entirely possible that the FCC does nothing. Usage caps are a glorified price hike, and even in its latest more consumer friendly iteration, the FCC has historically been afraid to so much as even acknowledge high prices are a problem in the sector.

Things have been muddied further by T-Mobile's Binge On program, which gives users the illusion of "free data" by setting arbitrary usage caps, then exempting the biggest video services from usage caps. And while many consumers applaud the idea, even T-Mobile's implementation sets a potentially dangerous precedent in that it fails to whitelist smaller video providers and non-profits -- most of which have no idea they're even being discriminated against. There's a contingent at the FCC and elsewhere that believes efforts like this are a positive example of "creative pricing experimentation."

Either way it's increasingly clear that the FCC needs to take some public position on the subject as ISPs continue to test the agency's murky boundaries to the detriment of users and small companies alike. Should the FCC win its court case, pressure will grow exponentially for the FCC to actually put its money where its mouth is -- and put the rules so many people fought for to actual use.
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Filed Under: broadband, data caps, fcc, usage caps, zero rating
Companies: foursquare, kickstarter, medium, mozilla, reddit, vimeo, yelp

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  1. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 25 May 2016 @ 6:11am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Oh, dear me! Let's go through this one point at a time:

    Everyone just keeps forgetting that treating corporations as government property to be "regulated" on the whims of the public never solves the problems that corporations bring. All it does is put the government in bed with business while simultaneously NEVER regulating businesses the way the citizens requested to begin with.

    WRONG. Corporations require a charter to get started in the first place, therefore they are a creation of government. Regulations are not an attempt to treat corporations as property, nor is this done on the whim of the public. Regulations place obligations on corporations to conduct their business within the parameters of existing law; e.g. providing a safe working environment for employees and for the public. When corporations achieve regulatory capture, it's because THEY got in bed with the government, not the other way around. They are NOT blushing virgins seduced by creepy old men lusting for young flesh, or anything.

    While I can definitely understand the idea behind regulating business, it just never works out because instead of ending corruption, it only increases it and then creates more trouble without ever solving the original problem. People just forget about the original problem because the new problem is bigger and more noticeable!

    Regulations aren't about ending corruption per se, they're about setting limits on what businesses can do. When regulatory capture occurs, that's what makes things worse. Drinking the anarcho-capitalist Kool-aid prevents the public from noticing what the problem really is: corporations buying government influence and paying for laws and regulations to be made in their favour.

    So yes, dammit, corporations are composed of people and therefore have every fucking damn right that a human fucking being has according to the constitution. Your logic is directly responsible for letting the government use 3rd party doctrine to take everyone's privacy en mass.

    Assume that's true; why can't they be imprisoned or executed like human people can? I would remind you that due to the revolving door problem of ex-government employees going to work for security companies, we now have laws that effectively put money into these companies' pockets because somebody's got to do the spying and former Rep. [Name] has advised that the terrorists are coming to get us. Don't worry former Rep's company will help to spy on the population for the sake of national security.

    Congratulations, you are just exactly the fucking type of citizen helping to cause, with your ignorance, many of the problems this site does news about!

    Actually, by buying into the "making money out of something in the name of a corporation purifies it of all evil" nonsense, that would be you.

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