Net Neutrality Supporters Urging FCC To Take Action Against Zero-Rating Offers
Now that the United States Court of Appeals has upheld the net neutrality rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over a year ago, advocates of those rules are demanding that the agency take immediate action in addressing zero rating deals offered by various broadband and wireless companies.
Indeed, just this week, representatives from Fight the Future, the Center for Media Justice, and Free Press handed over a 6 foot tall package that contained a hundred thousand letters complaining to the FCC. All of those letters are effectively requesting the agency to do something about certain zero rating offers from familiar providers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Comcast. The letters claim that such offers by these companies are in violation of the FCC’s Open Internet order.
For those not familiar with zero rating, it is a business practice that has broadband and wireless providers exempt specific mobile apps or services from data caps on a monthly basis. One prime example is Binge On, the video streaming service from T-Mobile that allows the wireless carrier’s subscribers to enjoy watching streamed unlimited video content. Another example is FreeBee from Verizon Wireless, which lets video content providers to pay for a person’s data use while using their service.
Zero rating does have some advantages (especially to low income mobile users), but the practice has gotten some flak from critics who claim that it is in direct violation of the net neutrality rules imposed by the FCC, which mandates that all services on the Internet be treated equally. The critics are claiming that zero rating deals allow certain companies to have an unfair advantage over smaller providers who can not afford to offer similar deals. In their defense, wireless carriers are saying that they are merely trying to explore different business models in which they can make their services more accessible to their customers.
Strictly speaking, the net neutrality rules established by the FCC do not explicitly ban zero rating deals. Instead, the agency has chosen to review such offers on a case to case basis. The FCC has also chosen to send letters to providers who offered zero rating deals, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Comcast, requesting the companies to provide details about their respective offers.
As for broadband and wireless providers, they continue to argue that zero rating deals do more good than harm. They also point out that the customers themselves do not have any problem with the offers. But as explained by Matt Wood of Free Press, customers actually are not getting anything for free with these deals.