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Here’s How the FCC’s Stance on Net Neutrality Will Affect Your Mobile Data Experience

February 9, 2015 - Written By Nick Sutrich

Net Neutrality has been a topic on the minds of tech lovers and freedom fighters everywhere for quite a while now, and it looks like the idea has pretty much won out.  While the final vote won’t come until February 26th, we’re already seeing the effects of such a ruling in the mobile world as Federal Communications Commissions Chairman Tom Wheeler has announced that mobile data won’t be exempt from the possible new reclassification of the Internet into a Title II utility.  This will have a very real effect on our mobile data usage and general experience overall, but what exactly will we see change when this likely happens in the coming months and years ahead?

First off we’re not going to see programs like AT&T’s Sponsored Data, which is a shady program at best that allows corporations and groups with lots of money to subsidize your data cost in order to incentivize your use of their app or service.  We’ve seen this sort of tomfoolery with the ISP’s in general and Netflix plenty of times, but none has been more famous than the Verizon debacle with Netflix.  If you’ve missed this one or haven’t tried watching Netflix particularly on Verizon’s network, essentially there was a feud between the two companies and at one point when the Netflix app detected that it was being throttled by Verizon’s network it would tell the customer to call Verizon and complain about restrictions that had been placed on their service.  If Tom Wheeler’s plan goes through we won’t see this nonsense by Verizon any longer, as it’ll be illegal to single out companies and throttle their services or force them to pay hefty fines in order to not be throttled as AT&T and plenty of other ISP’s out there have.

What’s not 100% clear is whether or not programs like T-Mobile’s Music Freedom will go away.  Music Freedom is a program where participating music services that are streamed through T-Mobile’s network don’t count toward a users data bucket, so as long as you’re using one of the participating services like Pandora or Google Play Music you likely won’t ever reach your data cap.  While this sounds like a perfect candidate for the Title II restrictions it’s not so clear, as T-Mobile doesn’t charge any company to take part in this program and doesn’t offer any kind of restrictions as to who is allowed to participate and who isn’t.  If nothing Title II restrictions will keep this as free and open a policy as possible, keeping T-Mobile from ever being able to charge services for such an opportunity to be used by consumers with no restrictions.

Lastly there’s those nasty bandwidth throttling policies that some companies have imposed on customers that use a lot of data.  As a corporate business user of Verizon I’ve found myself throttled more than once, with my phone being forced into 3G for an entire day sometimes with no rhyme or reason outside of I’ve used more data than Verizon wanted me to in a day.  This sort of practice would be forbidden under Title II restrictions so long as a policy is advertised as unlimited.  Obviously paying for a tiered data plan or one with a cap would have different rules for when you’ve reached that cap, as T-Mobile’s service does when you hit your high speed data “limit” and are slowed down for the remainder of the billing period.  For customers there’s very little downside to Net Neutrality, and any downside of far outweighed by the upsides of the whole situation anyway, including a more fair and free Internet that’s not held back artificially by those in power.