The FCC now has AT&T in is crosshairs over violating net neutrality rules by allowing its users to use its new DIRECTV Now video streaming service, without charging them any data, a practice known as “zero rating”. According to an article on Cnet the FCC sent a letter on Thursday informing AT&T that they believe, through a preliminary investigation, that this zero rate offer is in violation of net neutrality rules. It should be noted that zero rating is not specifically prohibited, but the FCC can take action on a case by case basis. The FCC is also investigating Verizon over claims that it is doing the same with access to its GO90 service.
Both AT&T and Verizon, as expected, issued statements that they disagree with the claims. They say that their zero rate services are available to any content provider who is willing to pay for the privilege. The FCC isn’t buying it, issuing the counter argument that the rates for content providers would make it rather difficult to offer a service to their customers at a reasonable price, and that the companies have a clear cost advantage with their own services.
What about T-Mobile
What I find interesting in all of this is that T-Mobile’s Binge On service, which has been around for some time now, is seemingly not being targeted. I do believe that one key point is that T-Mobile does not have its own streaming services, while AT&T and Verizon do, so for T-Mobile the issue of favoring an in-house service is moot. T-Mobile does, however, operate on a policy of throttling content from providers who do not take part in Binge on, which is a clear violation of the principles of net neutrality, which people have been , writing about since its introduction. There is a great commentary piece on this by Forbes contributor Tony Bradley, and I also can’t help to wonder why the FCC hasn’t been down T-mobiles throat about this
A brief lesson on net neutrality
Net neutrality is the principle that all content should be treated equally on the internet by ISP’s. A major goal of net neutrality is to prevent an environment where only content from providers who pay to play will be delivered to customers at the fastest speeds. Advocates for net neutrality feel that this is important to the free flow of information, or to the internet remaining open. Some even go as far as to feel that money will control speech without these rules. Full disclosure here I am generally in support of net neutrality, I do believe that everyone should have an equal voice, however I am skeptical as to how much regulation is necessary.
Obviously many ISP’s don’t favor this approach, as there is money being made, they are businesses that what they do. With a large number of ISPs also owning content there is a huge financial incentive in integrating their content and making it more appealing to customers, like letting the access it for free, for example. The arguments the companies make against the net neutrality rules range from the idea that they are providing their customers a service by speeding up certain services, and passing the costs on to providers, to the traditional arguments about government overreach.
Many members of the public favor net neutrality, and vocalized this to the FCC via their open comments forum. As such the FCC classified ISPs common carriers under Title II of the FCC regulations, meaning they are supposed to do what is best for the public interest. This was an important step in bolstering the FCC’s regulatory power.
It seems that there might be problems for advocates of net neutrality. In case you haven’t noticed the Republican’s will take control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency, and they are not friendly to net neutrality. According to Cnet’s article Republican FCC Chair called the moves “sad and pointless.”, and stated that anything done now can be easily undone by the incoming administration. The position against net neutrality makes sense based on some of the advertised principles of the Republican party, two of which seem fitting here being, reducing government regulation, and encouraging a free market.
The debate rages on
The debate over net neutrality is far from over. Companies will continue to innovate new ways to side step rules, today were talking about AT&T and Verizon (and T-Mobile), later it will be another, or the same companies again. While the FCC continues to fight for net neutrality, the incoming administration may be able to cut the FCC off at the knees. Most of all, the fact of the matter is, that most of us will continue to use these services, because often for that specific service it is a cost savings to us. In the end net neutrality regulation itself may find itself throttled, and the consumers will have to decide if they want to support companies that don’t play fair.