AT&T Is Restoring Its Bullshit Broadband Caps Because Apparently The COVID Crisis Is Over

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

Last March, the Trump FCC put on a big show about a new "Keep America Connected Pledge" to help broadband users during COVID. In it, the FCC proudly proclaimed that it had gotten hundreds of ISPs to suspend usage caps and late fees, and agree to not disconnect users who couldn't pay for essential broadband service during a pandemic. The problem: the 60 day pledge was entirely voluntary, temporary, and because the FCC just got done obliterating its consumer protection authority as part of its net neutrality repeal, was impossible to actually enforce. It was regulatory theater.

The rather meaningless pledge has since expired despite the pandemic only getting worse. And because this FCC doesn't actually care about consumer protection (it literally doesn't even collect data on who is getting kicked offline for nonpayment during a plague), many ISPs simply ignored the pledge, and kicked users offline anyway; even disabled Americans who were told repeatedly by their ISPs that they wouldn't be booted offline for nonpayment during the crisis.

If you hadn't noticed, the COVID health and economic crisis has only gotten worse. Yet most of the ISPs that crowed about the benefits of this performative prattle have also restored their bullshit, arbitrary usage caps, making them a pretty additional penny during a crisis. AT&T, for example, has restored arbitrary usage caps as of January 1:

"The New Year brings unwelcome news for some customers of AT&T’s internet services as the telecom giant ends data cap waivers that were a part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic...on Jan. 1 the 1-terabyte-per-month data limits are back for customers of AT&T Internet, previously known as U-verse Internet."

Americans already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for broadband. In AT&T's case, you'll pay a high flat-rate price, and then have to pay $10 for each 50 GB consumed over the cap. Many AT&T customers, like their DSL customers (who face ridiculous monthly caps as low as 150 GB), never had the caps waived in the first place:

"Customers who still have AT&T’s oldest and slowest internet service, DSL, did not have their caps waived, which are set at 150 GB per month. Fixed-wireless internet services are capped at 250 GB per month."

We'll say this one more time with feeling: broadband caps have no technical or financial purpose outside of price gouging and anti-competitive leverage in the streaming wars. They don't help manage network congestion. They're not an issue of "fairness," because you're imposing costly and unnecessary new surcharges on all of your users. It's not even really useful as a price differentiator for heavy users, who can already be shoveled to a business-class tier should they feel the need to run multiple servers out of their closet (something modern network management tackles anyway without the need for caps).

If America had functional regulators, you'd be hearing criticism about how monopolies probably shouldn't be engaged in price gouging during an historic health and economic crisis. But not only has the Trump/Pai FCC not followed up on its original pledge, it's not even trying to track how many users are being kicked offline during the crisis due to economic hardship. They've also done absolutely nothing to even lightly criticize ISPs that ignored the original pledge. Again, that's because the Trump GOP couldn't give any less of a shit about consumer protection, despite oodles of breathless pretense to the contrary.

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Filed Under: competition, covid, digital divide, fcc, usage caps
Companies: at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2021 @ 6:34am

    Those ill-conceived, underwater acquisitions aren't just going to pay for themselves you know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 7 Jan 2021 @ 7:33am

    AT&T's new tagline...

    Service will diminish until morale improves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jilocasin (profile), 7 Jan 2021 @ 9:27am

    Hopefully the new FCC will be of more help than the last.

    With the Dems controlling the senate and Mitch McConnell no longer in charge, a new FCC chief should be confirmed in short order, going back to a more reasonable 3/2 democrat majority.

    He (or she) will have a lot of harmful changes to undo ahead of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Gunner, 11 Jan 2021 @ 7:25am

      Re: Hopefully the new FCC will be of more help than the last.

      How cute, you really think that the Liberals care about the Pesky Citizens any more than the Right. Good luck with that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2021 @ 9:57am

    Because Apparently The COVID Crisis Is Over

    What? No, it's obviously because the executives had been salivating at the amount of profit that this could bring in, especially now that they've let people become accustomed to using much more data than they used to.

    Of course, they don't give a reason. They don't have to. They're the phone company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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