FCC’s Wheeler Raises AT&T & Verizon Sponsored Data Concerns

January 11, 2017 - Written By John Anon

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Tom Wheeler, has suggested that AT&T and Verizon Wireless could be in breach of net neutrality regulations for the way in which the two carriers make use of zero-rating data services. Wheeler’s concerns on this were expressed in a letter sent out to US senators and made publicly available today, detailing the result of an informal review of the different zero-rating offerings by three of the major carriers in the US – AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

While Wheeler has made it clear that there are concerns regarding AT&T and Verizon’s offerings, the same concerns have not been extended to T-Mobile. The main reason being that T-Mobile’s Binge On service (which zero-rates data for streamed video content) is less demanding on third-party services. In short, Binge On does not discriminate against third-party video companies and offers them all the same level of service and zero-rating of data, regardless. In contrast, the report has found that AT&T and Verizon’s Sponsored Data services do (or could) more heavily favor their own video streaming services, DIRECTV and Go90, respectively.

Of course, at the moment this does not seem to be much more than a statement on the matter as Wheeler is set to leave the FCC once President-elect Donald Trump is inaugurated. At which point, control of the FCC will move. Therefore, Wheeler and team are not currently in a position to act on their report findings in any meaningful or sustained manner. In addition, it is currently unclear how the next FCC will view net neutrality regulations in general, let alone specifics such as whether AT&T and Verizon are in breach of those regulations. Following the publishing of this latest report though, AT&T has sent out a response on their Public Policy Blog detailing that it “remains unclear” as to why such practices are being questioned in the first place. Adding that their service provides consumers with the ability “to enjoy the latest popular content and services – for free”. Echoing sentiments made by AT&T towards the FCC in the closing months of 2016. Likewise, and according to Ars Technica, Verizon reached out with a similar response, stating that Verizon hopes the incoming FCC will “take into account the views of our customers who greatly benefit from watching professional football, soccer, basketball and other great content on Go90 free of data charges.”