The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sent letters to Comcast, T-Mobile and AT&T about each of their respective services that allow consumers to stream video and music without eating into their monthly data caps. Responses were requested by January 15.
At a press conference, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was careful to point out that these letters did not constitute an active investigation. Instead, it seems to be more of a probe to better understand the service offerings.
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“Let me be real clear,” Wheeler said. “These were ‘let’s get informed letters.'”
Currently, each of the three companies have a program that could violate the rather ambiguous ‘zero rating’ practice, which allows internet service providers (ISPs) to not count certain data usage under its cap.
Comcast users can stream video using the ‘Stream TV‘ service without counting against monthly data caps. T-Mobile has its ‘Binge on‘ service which algorithmically optimizes and allows users to stream video content from approved providers without data cap impact. AT&T is the latest addition as the company has been experimenting with its own data cap workaround called ‘Data Perks,’ which allows customers to earn extra data by interacting with brands.
For the time being, this doesn’t appear that it’ll change the standard operating practice of any of the three services being probed. That said, the whole thing could be a wash anyway as a federal court deliberates whether the FCC’s net neutrality rules are even legal. Without net neutrality laws, zero rating practices are no longer relevant.
For now, all three companies appear happy to cooperate with the FCC and better educate regulators on their respective service offerings.