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Free Data Programs From T-Mobile, AT&T and Comcast Scrutinized by FCC

The United States Federal Communications Commission yesterday sent letters to T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast questioning the companies about mobile services that allow customers to access certain content without paying for the data usage, reports Bloomberg. While the FCC has been careful to note the inquiry is "not an investigation" and designed to help the FCC "stay informed as to what the practices are," there have been some questions about whether such services violate net neutrality rules.

Under scrutiny is T-Mobile's Binge On program, which allows customers to stream 480p video that doesn't count against a data cap, AT&T's Sponsored Data program that lets AT&T customers view sponsored content for free, and Comcast's Stream TV, a video service that does not count against data caps in areas where data caps are imposed. Ars Technica has uploaded a copy of the letters that were sent to the three companies.

tmobingeon
Back in February, the FCC voted in favor of new net neutrality rules preventing Internet providers from blocking or throttling web traffic or offering prioritized service for payment, but it has not specifically addressed these "zero-rating" data exemption programs. Last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the organization would keep an eye on T-Mobile's Binge On service, but praised it as being both "highly innovative and highly competitive."

In a statement, a T-Mobile spokesperson said the company is "looking forward" to talking with the FCC, and believes Binge On is "absolutely in line with net-neutrality rules." Comcast expressed a similar sentiment, stating it looks forward "to participating in the FCC's fact-gathering process relating to industry practices." An AT&T spokesperson said AT&T is committed to "innovation without permission" and expressed hope the FCC is too.

The FCC has requested "relevant technical and business" representatives from T-Mobile, AT&T, and Comcast be made available for discussions by January 15.

Note: Due to the political nature of the discussion regarding this topic, the discussion thread is located in our Politics, Religion, Social Issues forum. All forum members and site visitors are welcome to read and follow the thread, but posting is limited to forum members with at least 100 posts.



Top Rated Comments

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8 months ago
I'm glad the government is ready to protect us in case these companies exploit us by providing better service.
Rating: 19 Votes
8 months ago

Darn, this article really highlights how out out touch I am. I didn't even know net neutrality was voted through. Sad news.


You do know that the internet has been functioning under net neutrality since it's inception, right?
Rating: 16 Votes
8 months ago

This is why net neutrality is stupid. It leads to micromanagement by regulators.


It's actually pretty easy in this case. They either have to give it all away for free, or charge for access to it all. Telcos aren't allowed to give preferential treatment to any one line of data over another.
Rating: 16 Votes
8 months ago

Would you be saying the same thing if they were charging the companies to be available on that service, and keeping smaller companies from being usable?


I think it's funny that the usual bunch of anti regulation laissez-faire people are arguing against restrictions that allow the one truest form of laissez-faire capitalism the world has seen to be gamed by those who merely provide the gateway to it.

ISPs should only be allowed to do one thing for me: charge me access to the internet at large. I don't want them picking and choosing what gets to me, what doesn't, and what I have to pay more for based upon nothing but their own whims.
Rating: 13 Votes
8 months ago
I think the AT&T and Comcast ones may be problematic, but the T-Mobile one is definitely ok. Think about it this way, with T-Mobile, you are agreeing to a lower quality stream and in exchange, T-Mobile is saying because we are sending it to you at a lower quality, we will not count it against your high speed data cap. And you have the option to have the full high quality streams, but that will count against your high speed data cap. The consumer has full control over which way they want to go. Additionally, T-Mobile has said that it is open to any service that wishes to participate, their only requirement is that video packets are easily identifiable separately from packets from other content on each site.

They did the same kind of thing with music and that was determined to be ok as well.

Now in all fairness to the FCC, they have been a bit oblivious in recent history with things like AT&T throttling unlimited plans, etc. and in this case they are simply saying they want to understand what is happening and how it may impact various services and consumers. I think the FCC doing their research like this is actually a good thing and I don't think it will lead to a full blown investigation, as that's the point, they need to simply look into it and make sure all is good. Since it appears to be in this case, I don't see that there will be an issue.
Rating: 11 Votes
8 months ago
This is why net neutrality is stupid. It leads to micromanagement by regulators.
Rating: 9 Votes
8 months ago

I hate the government and wish I still lived in the 1400s.

Then I hope you are white and born into a wealthy, prominent, and respected family. Otherwise have fun with the life of a peasant.
Rating: 8 Votes
8 months ago

I'm glad the government is ready to protect us in case these companies exploit us by providing better service.

Would you be saying the same thing if they were charging the companies to be available on that service, and keeping smaller companies from being usable?

I think as it is since T-mobile appears to allow any streaming video app access to the service it should be ok, but it does run a risk of being very anticompetitive, so it is good the FCC is keeping an eye on it.
Rating: 7 Votes
8 months ago

This is why net neutrality is stupid. It leads to micromanagement by regulators.

You couldn't have it more backward. This is why net neutrality is good. The FCC is ensuring that these companies aren't giving preferential treatment to some content over others, and they are praising these companies for doing things the right way. For example, if T-Mobile said WatchESPN streaming didn't count but Fox Sports Go did, that wouldn't be fair and they'd need to step in. They're simply doing their job and doing it well.
Rating: 6 Votes
8 months ago
I think the important question that should be asked is, will this harm competitive conditions in an unfair way?

Taking T-Mobiles Binge-On program for example, if any video streaming startup can easily qualify for the zero-rating by using a certain freely available codec with certain settings, and anyone can easily implement this, it seems fine to me. If qualifying for the zero-rating requires jumping through timely and/or expensive hoops, then it seems anti-competitive and unfair to me.
Rating: 6 Votes

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