After Net Neutrality had been voted on and approved by the FCC and the rules established, it had been somewhat assumed that this would be the end of the much wider debate as Net Neutrality had now not only been established, but had also been defined. However, since then, it has begun to appear that implementing and enforcing the notion of Net Neutrality is something which might be extremely hard to do. This is a point which was brought up in a recent report out of the Wall Street Journal which suggests that various carriers are starting to come under heightened criticism from Net Neutrality advocates. In particular, that services like T-Mobile’s Binge On and AT&T’s (and Verizon more recently) attempts at ‘sponsoring data’ may be creating a climate for what is known as zero rating. A climate which in itself might lead to further breaches of Net Neutrality.
The issue with zero rating is that carriers have the ability to essentially cancel out data used by consumers for various services. In the case of T-Mobile and Binge On, the assumption is that consumers might be more swayed to using certain video content providers as using them will essentially be free. An aspect which could be considered prioritizing a service and would be in breach of Net Neutrality. For AT&T and Verizon, their approach to zero rating has come in the form of sponsored data, where consumers can again make use of free data by having a third party (presumed to be a business or service provider) paying for the content. which again, in theory could be a form or prioritizing. However, establishing as to whether these are breaches of Net Neutrality seems to be proving to be the issue.
The FCC’s Tom Wheeler did recently (and publicly) state that it does not look like there would be any obvious Net Neutrality issues with Binge On, although, Wheeler did make it clear that the FCC would be watching closely as to how the service develops. This is thought to be the same approach the FCC is taking with the idea of sponsored data too, although, the FCC have been less vocal on their stance with AT&T and Verizon’s approaches so far. However, some analysts had previously suggested that the notion of sponsored data is unlikely to be one which does breach Net Neutrality regulations.
The issue for the advocates though, is that regardless of whether T-Mobile, AT&T or Verizon are in breach of Net Neutrality (which they all claim they are not), the worry is that the use of such zeroing of data may lead to further issues down the road with other companies looking to make use of a similar services to cancel out data charges, in favor of certain companies, businesses or otherwise. Not to mention, such services from the big service providers will have an impact on smaller service providers who are not able to so easily wipe out charges to draw consumers over.