Back in 2014, the Federal Trade Commission had filed a lawsuit against AT&T over what it deemed were deceptive business practices revolving around its unlimited data plans which some customers were reportedly being throttled on up to as much as 90 percent. In January of this year AT&T filed a claim in an attempt to get that lawsuit thrown out, stating that the FTC wasn’t allowed or shouldn’t be allowed to bring the suit against them due to the fact that AT&T is a “common carrier service.” and that AT&T’s decisions to throttle customers are well within their rights to do so. According to The Hill, District Court Judge Edward Chen who is presiding over the case, is siding with the federal government and is rejecting AT&T’s requests to throw out the lawsuit.
This bodes well for the FTC and likely the customers who were subject to AT&T’s methods, which the FTC claims were attempts to push customers onto newer, more expensive data plans. Judge Chen’s ruling mentions that although AT&T believes they are out of reach of the FTC because of their common carrier status, this particular rule doesn’t apply to them. To be exempt under the common carrier exception, AT&T has to actually hold the status of a common carrier and be engaging in common carrier activity, which Chen implies they are not. Despite the ruling and the decision of Judge Chen, AT&T continues to argue that they were throttling only its heaviest users and were trying to make sure that bandwidth was evenly distributed across their network to all customers.
With the presence of the new Net Neutrality rules set in place by the FCC, AT&T’s data services would be joining their voice services under a common carrier classification, which would have kept the FTC from being able to pursue the case against the nation’s second-largest wireless carrier, but because the FTC filed their lawsuit before the new rules were set, AT&T’s data service were not technically a common carrier activity and therefore, the lawsuit will continue. What’s interesting is that AT&T was fighting the FCC’s decision to re-classify mobile broadband as a common carrier service just a couple of months ago, and the status of being a common carrier is what AT&T wants to use as an argument to prevent the FTC’s lawsuit from moving forward.