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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 11:52am

    These letters also need to be forwarded to Congress to hopefully avoid Congress complaining about the FCC doing its job.

    Too bad without monetary backing they mean nothing. Congress doesn't serve the people unless it's people that can afford to influence campaigns and can offer politicians nice revolving door favors later on.

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

    • identicon
      That One Other Guy, 24 May 2016 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      Remember, it was Congress that Allowed the SCotUS to redefine "People" to mean corporations.

      That in and of itself should tell you that "we the people" doesn't mean human beings anymore.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 8:03pm

        Re: Re:

        That is such an ignorant & bankrupt response.

        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.

        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!

        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.

        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!

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

        • 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.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2016 @ 8:45am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Still bankrupt.

            Regulation only gets you what you are trying to avoid. Free Market is the best way. We do not have a free market, we once did which is what made America great once, but no longer, regulation has seen to the death of free market and has only continued to drag America down into the mud.

            But that oddly still does not stop people like you from blaming free market ideas for the failure of a regulated market where all it does is screw it up.

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

      • icon
        fgoodwin (profile), 25 May 2016 @ 10:53am

        Re: Re:

        Congress allowed SCOTUS to redefine people as corporations?

        Howso? And what could Congress have done to stop them?

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2016 @ 12:22pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The first instance that I am aware of where this was formally adopted as law, is the dictionary act of 1871. So yes it was Congress who started the turd rolling down hill. It has since been used by courts nationwide to justify every contortion of logic imaginable.

          Notably international trade corporations DID exist in 1776. In fact regulatory capture related to those trade corporations was exactly what led to the first American revolutionary war. (Tea Party anyone?)

          And since that was the case, one might consider that in 1789, if Congress had wanted to endow abstractions of law with rights, such that those rights would be cumulative and disproportionately delegated to the people, THEY WOULD HAVE FUCKING SAID SO IN THE CONSTITUTION.

          It isn't hard to discern the founders intent, since they wrote nearly everything down themselves.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 12:00pm

    Democrats want beter Internet and prices for people, and the Republicans at least in theory support competition, so why doesn't Congress unanimously decide to ban all local monopolies that have been given to cable companies?

    That should have an almost overnight effect on drastically reducing prices and improving speeds, just as we've seen in some instances where Google Fiber arrived in some towns and the big cable companies scrambled to try to offer something at least remotely competitive.

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

  • identicon
    That One Other Guy, 24 May 2016 @ 12:13pm

    Unlimited means "No Limits"

    Limiting "speeds" after xx amount of usage is a limit, period.

    The FTC should get in on the act with all Cellular and Internet providers that "advertise" *UNLIMITED*, with dumb-asterisks.

    Slowing the traffic down is limiting.
    Capping the traffic at any amount is limiting.
    Modifying the traffic in any way is limiting.

    Come on FTC, as well as State and Federal AGs, let's get all over these companies false advertisement and claims, and this time, hit em hard enough to make their noses bleed and their bowels rupture. We're talking millions per customer that the "limits" applied to.

    Don't allow anyone to "redefine" common words in advertisement.

    That would be like a food company advertising "Peanut Free*" with the small print reading "We used genetically modified peanuts that have the tradename Notpeanuts, but still cause the same allergic reaction as real peanuts"

    It's identical to candy companies advertising "Sugar-Free" that cause diabetics to die because "Sugar-alcohol" is used instead of "Sugar", so they over-consume the sugar alcohol, killing themselves.

    Sugar Alcohol causes the same affect in the human body as sugar, in some cases, it's even worse than regular sugar.

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

    • icon
      Ryunosuke (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 1:39pm

      Re: Unlimited means "No Limits"

      I can understand case by case throttling in high density areas (read: metropolitan areas, Indy, Chicago, NYC, LA, LV, etc.) but... again that is case by case and rarely the case. and many, many, MANY more customers do NOT live in said urban areas.

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

  • icon
    Reverend Dak (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 2:10pm

    How hard can it be?

    Especially when companies like T-mob are boasting about zero-rating.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 25 May 2016 @ 4:09am

    You seem to not know what "muddied" means

    Verizon and Comcast and at&t, bad. T-Mobile, good.

    Clear enough?

    It's only truly "zero-rating" when it's your own stuff you're exempting and no one else's. It's not even close to "zero-rating" when anyone can join your program (as long as you satisfy the technical requirements therein).

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

  • identicon
    goonierag, 25 May 2016 @ 5:47am

    usage caps

    When comes to usage caps,suddenlink is even worse, They gave the choice of getting the unlimited for anextra $20.00 dollars,but they restricted it that to get it.You have to be on at least 100/7.5,so in states like WV where lots of people can't get 100/7.5 so they are stuck on 50/5 250gig or 75/7.5 350gig and worst caps of the broadband/cable isps.
    Also they are making the ones in area's that have the capability of 100/7.5 pay more to move up from the 50/5 or 75/7,5 to get the unlimited. So people like me would be charged twice.For me it would be $20 dollars to move up and $20 dollars for the unlimited. When I'm satisfied with the 50/5.
    And in suddenlink area's they stated last year that their lowest speed you can sign up for is 50/5. Why didn't they make it all their tiers can get the unlimited. Its cause they are mostly in uncompetitve area's so they can grab the most money they can from people. In WV lots of people use a OTA antenna for their video and the broadband is to supplement the video stream. So they set it up to moneytize the caps and stifle the competition.

    Not going to look good to the people if the government lets a foreign company altice/suddenlink gets away with caps setup and forced move up if don't want caps. Hopefully the fcc will crack down on this stuff before the court cases is settled and Wheeler leaves office.Hopefully he doesn't retire for next president,by law he doesn't have to. but if does we will be stuck with Ajit Pia then there goes all the help for the people.

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

  • identicon
    Andy, 25 May 2016 @ 9:26am

    The fight!

    All google has to do is provide the ability to use every single android phone as a part of a mesh network, encouraging everyone to ignore isps and use there phones to freely connect to the internet via a well proven mesh network.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2016 @ 11:25am

    I domn'

    So I am a little disinclined to be too concerned about their requests. Some of the stuff their browser does is way outside the realm of responsible netiquette.

    That said, the FCC can investigate. But I don't know what anyone is expecting them to find. You'd basically have to give somebody access to their core network to get a reasonably clear view of how they do business, and that isn't going to happen without litigation.

    So

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


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