Mobile Carriers’ Unanswered Questions About Violation of Net Neutrality Principles Prompt Request for FCC Investigation from Sens. Markey, Blumenthal, Wyden

 

Washington (February 6, 2019) – In November 2018, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, asking them to respond to a study that showed possible net neutrality violations on their networks. Specifically, the study, which used data collected by the app “Wehe,” showed numerous instances of bandwidth throttling for certain video providers.

 

In response to the Senators’ letters, the four major mobile carriers denied Wehe’s findings that they selectively impair or degrade video streaming. Rather than acknowledge the apparent throttling of video apps, the carriers blamed the disruptions on consumers, network management, coverage, or limitations imposed by the content providers themselves. Those justifications, however, failed to explain why certain video providers such as Netflix and YouTube were experiencing bandwidth throttling, while others were not. A copy of the company responses can be found HERE.

 

In response, the Senators have written to the FCC to demand an investigation into the carriers’ throttling and inadequate disclosures to customers.

 

“In their responses, the mobile carriers frequently attempted to shift the burden onto consumers and hide their practices,” write Senators Markey, Blumenthal, and Wyden. “Lengthy terms and conditions or small text at the end of the webpages using broad terms should not be considered disclosure, nor are they the basis of effective consumer choice or control. The lack of clear and complete information that the carriers provided in response to congressional inquiries should prompt the Commission to investigate the carriers’ practices and determine if they violate existing transparency rules.”

 

A copy of the letter to the FCC can be found HERE.

 

Carriers, under the guise of “network management,” are purposefully degrading certain services. Several responses claim that their network management practices, which might impact video streaming, are provider-agnostic and simply apply to all detected video traffic:

  • T-Mobile writes that it “transmit[s] video content at rates optimized for the smaller screens of mobile devices,” but that “optimization on T-Mobile’s network is also content-agnostic, applying equally to all detected video streams.” 
  • Verizon too “optimizes” video, stating, “We also may optimize traffic by limiting the throughput speeds of video to result in the appropriate resolution video file being delivered to the customer.” Yet the company states, “While we manage our network reasonably, we do not make any distinction based on the content of the video or the source website. Additionally, we don’t distinguish between one video provider and another, and we don’t treat video differently based on, for example, whether it’s coming from Amazon vs. Netflix vs. Apple vs. YouTube.”

 

The goal of the FCC’s transparency rules is to empower customers to make informed choices regarding their internet access services. Although in 2017 the FCC repealed the 2015 Open Internet Order, a move strongly opposed by Senators Markey, Blumenthal, and Wyden, the Commission retained certain transparency rules. Those rules require mobile carriers to provide their customers with sufficient information to make an informed choice about the price and speed of their internet services. Without proper notice to each customer, these carriers are potentially in violation of the FCC’s transparency rules.

 

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