FCC chief accuses AT&T and Verizon of violating net neutrality—but it probably doesn't matter

The FCC believes that AT&T and Verizon are probably engaging in unfair practices, but don't expect the government to do anything about it.

AT&T and Verizon are probably violating the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules by allowing third-parties to pay for subscribers’ data usage.

That’s the determination FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler provided in a letter to several U.S. Senators on Wednesday, along with a report on the matter from The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. But Wheeler is set to step down as FCC Chair once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office next Thursday.

At issue is the AT&T Sponsored Data program first introduced in 2014 and Verizon’s similar FreeBee Data 360, which the company announced in January 2016. Both programs allow third-party content providers to cover the cost of data usage by users while viewing their stuff. That way subscribers can view said content, such as a news video, without it counting against their data cap—a practice known as zero-rating.

The problem, according to Wheeler, isn’t that AT&T and Verizon are offering free data to subscribers or even that third parties are paying for it. The issue is that AT&T and Verizon may be offering payment terms to third-parties that are less favorable than what each carrier’s own homegrown services—AT&T’s affiliate DirecTV and Verizon’s go90 service—receive.

“All indications are that AT&T’s charges far exceed the costs AT&T incurs in providing the sponsored data service,” Wheeler said in his letter. “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...DirecTV.” As for Verizon, Wheeler noted there’s nothing stopping the carrier from offering “substantially more costly or restrictive terms” to third-party service providers.

In response to the FCC, AT&T said “It remains unclear why the Wireless Bureau continues to question the value of giving consumers the ability to watch video without incurring any data charges.”

Wheeler also noted that the FCC doesn’t have a problem with T-Mobile’s BingOn service, which offers subscribers free data for streaming video content in DVD-level quality. The main difference between the approach by T-Mobile and its competitors is that T-Mobile does not charge third-party content providers to participate in the program.

The impact on you at home: While the FCC seems pretty certain that AT&T and Verizon are up to no good, there’s little the Commission is going to do about it. Shortly after the Presidential election in November, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation asked the FCC to cease any activity on “complex, partisan, or otherwise controversial” issues—a request the FCC appears to be complying with. A net neutrality case involving two of the country’s major wireless carriers would certainly qualify as complex and partisan.

Once President-elect Trump takes office it’s unlikely the carriers will suffer any consequences from this FCC determination. Trump and his advisers are expected to be decidedly skeptical or outright against net neutrality.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags verizonat&tfcc

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Bitdefender 2019

Bitdefender’s best-in-class security solutions have been awarded Product of the Year. Get cybersecurity that 500 MILLION users already have and trust!

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?