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FCC Stops Inquiries On Zero-Rated Data

FCC Stops Inquiries On Zero-Rated Data

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission had released a report on zero rated data services, stating that while these types of offerings are not necessarily in violation of net neutrality rules, the ones offered by the top two wireless carriers in America (namely, Verizon Wireless’ Go90 and AT&T’s DirecTV) do break regulations due to the fact that they let mobile operators deliver their own content without affecting the data allotments of customers. This virtually provides them with an advantage over smaller carriers, who can not always promise the same zero effect on customers’ data caps.

It is important to note that the January report was released while Tom Wheeler was still sitting as chairman of the FCC. But now that the agency has a new chairman in the person Ajit Pai, things have changed. Pai had succeeded Wheeler just as Donald Trump took office as the President of the United States.

As explained by Pai through an official press statement, the zero rated data services currently being offered by wireless carriers have proven to be a hit among consumers, especially those belonging to low income households. Furthermore, these offerings have contributed in enhancing the overall competition in wireless. In moving forward, the FCC will shift away from denying users access to zero-rated data, but instead focus on continuing to facilitate innovation and improvement in how wireless services are delivered to Americans. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly also released his own statement, agreeing with Pai has stated. Both O’Rielly and Pai currently hold a 2-1 Republican majority on the FCC. 

Back in December of last year, the FCC had sent letters of inquiry to Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Comcast, requesting more in depth information about their respective zero rated data services. But recently, the letters the agency has sent are notifications that these telecoms companies will no longer have to worry about any further inquiries from the Commission. Still, it is not clear yet how Pai’s leadership will affect the initiatives began by Wheeler in the months or years to come.

2016 saw zero-rated data services become a key strategy for the Big Four operators in America to attract new subscribers. T-Mobile was first to get the ball rolling, initially with its Music Freedom feature in 2014 and then with the release of its Binge On service last year. The wireless carrier soon got some flak from supporters of net neutrality, who charged that T-Mobile was guilty of unfair business practices.