FCC Questions Verizon Plan to Throttle Some Unlimited Data Customers

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler today sent a letter [PDF via Gigaom] to Verizon Wireless, questioning its plan to throttle customers that have unlimited data plans during peak usage times. Verizon first announced its intention to throttle high-usage customers on grandfathered unlimited LTE plans last week.

In the letter, Wheeler says that he is "deeply troubled" by Verizon's decision to throttle its unlimited users, as the company described its efforts as necessary for "Network Optimization." Wheeler stated that he does not believe slowing the data speeds for select users falls under the "reasonable network management" umbrella.

verizon_lte_reliable

"Reasonable network management" concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its "network management" on distinctions among its customers' data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.

Wheeler goes on to ask Verizon to answer a series of questions, requesting that the company explain its rationale for treating customers differently based on data plan type and questioning whether Verizon's new throttling policy is justified under the FCC's Open Internet rules. Wheeler also questions the necessity of cutting data speeds on the much more efficient 4G LTE network.

In a statement to The Wall Street Journal Verizon said that it would respond to the Chairman's letter following a review of the content.

"We will officially respond to the Chairman's letter once we have received and reviewed it," Verizon Wireless said in a statement. "However, what we announced last week was a highly targeted and very limited network optimization effort, only targeting cell cites experiencing high demand. The purpose is to ensure there is capacity for everyone in those limited circumstances, and that high users don't limit capacity for others."

Verizon plans to begin throttling high-usage LTE customers accessing congested network cells beginning on October 1. The company says the change will only affect users with grandfathered unlimited plans not under contract who rank in the top five percent of data users.

At the time of its announcement, Verizon said that the top five percent consisted of customers who used 4.7GB of data each month, and those customers may experience slow data speeds "when using certain high bandwidth applications, such as streaming high-definition video or during real-time, online gaming" when connected to a cell site "experiencing heavy demand."

Verizon, which has long restricted 3G data usage for unlimited users, is not the first wireless carrier that has implemented LTE usage restrictions for customers on grandfathered unlimited plans. Other carriers, like AT&T, have similar policies and restrict key features from unlimited data plan holders in an effort to encourage them to switch to pay-by-usage tiered data plans.

Top Rated Comments

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79 months ago
I love how Verizon claim their problem is with "high data users in cell cities experiencing high demand".

Yet if you're in one such city, and suppose you're very rich, on a normal 5 GB plan and use 500 GB a month and pay whatever the extra 495 GB cost, they're fine with it and won't throttle you.

So really their problem isn't that you're a "high data user in cell cities experiencing high demand". It's that they regret entering into a contract with you where you didn't have to pay extra for that and now they're trying to unilaterally change the terms of the contract to make more money.
Score: 24 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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79 months ago
Oh NOW the FCC cares about data usage and throttling. That's cute. I wish they cared that much about net neutrality.
Score: 20 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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79 months ago
Smack down!

I love it. And I agree 100% with Wheeler. Selective and targeted throttling is BS.

4.7GB per month is the top 5% of their unlimited users, and they say it might affect their network? That's utterly ridiculous. I buy 8GB a month, and usually end up using about 5GB on any given month. Why am I not taxing their network?

I am so glad that the FCC is calling them out on this utter crap.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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79 months ago
4.7GB is considered high usage..?
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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79 months ago
Do some research as this has been gone over and over again about why AT&T can throttle at a cap and VZW can't.

When VZW bought the spectrum through auction, Google wanted certain criteria to be met and bid just enough on the 700n MHz for VZW to bid higher. VZW bid higher and has to play by certain rules for this spectrum; other carriers don't have this agreement or spectrum.

While true that most of Net Neutrality has been struck down in court, this is different. This is coded into law: Code of Federal Regulations. This is what VZW bought into and has to abide by it.

Specifically, 47 CFR 27.16 (c)(1) which can be found in its entirety here (http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/47/27.16). It's not a long read either. Or, if you prefer, here: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title47-vol2/pdf/CFR-2011-title47-vol2-sec27-16.pdf
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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79 months ago
Doesn't make sense.

If this is about network optimization, then it should be universal. Not only on off contract unlimited users.

If I download 5.0GB then I'm throttled on congested towers. If my brother, on contract 2GB plan, downloads 5.0GB, he's not causing the same problem I am??
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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