Responding to Senators’ Request, FCC Releases Framework for Protecting Consumers Against Harmful Zero-Rating Plans

Markey led Senators in calling on FCC to take enforcement action against harmful zero-rating offerings that violate principles of net neutrality

Washington (January 11, 2017) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, today praised the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for developing a comprehensive framework for evaluating whether zero-rating plans abide by the critical net neutrality protections established in the Open Internet Order.   The FCC issued the report in response to the senators’ zero-rating inquiry in November. Other Senators joining Senator Markey’s effort were Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

“In response to our inquiry, the FCC has issued clear guidelines on how to protect consumers from harmful zero-rating plans that violate the core tenants of net neutrality,” said Senator Markey.  “These guiding principles will help the FCC, industry, and the public evaluate zero-rating offerings and identify plans that distort competition, stifle innovation, and hamper user choice and free speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues to encourage the Commission to enforce these guidelines and ensure that the internet remains a permission-less environment where anyone with an idea or voice can participate.”

“A free and open internet has been a crucial engine for innovation and economic growth. That's why I'm pleased to see that the FCC has heeded our call and released a framework for evaluating zero-rating plans, which can often harm competitors and consumers,” said Senator Franken. “This report evaluating whether zero rating plans violate net neutrality will help make sure the internet remains the free and open platform that it's always been. Keeping the internet open is critical to our democracy.”

“Despite clever branding gimmicks, so called ‘free data’ or zero-rating plans like those offered by AT&T and Verizon are a scheme to manipulate consumers and transfer money from their pockets to a company’s bottom line,” said Senator Wyden. “This report lays the framework for ensuring zero-rating plans don’t betray net neutrality and is a step in the right direction towards maintaining a free and open internet.”

“I commend the Commission for undertaking this careful and thorough report on how zero-rating offerings may negatively affect consumers and competition,”said Senator Markey. “As wireless carriers look for creative ways to differentiate themselves, it would serve them well to take heed of this report’s findings and address any red flags in their own offerings. This report confirms my concerns that some zero-rating offerings not only subvert the spirit of net neutrality, but also unfairly distort competition, disadvantage consumers, and decrease choice.”

“Internet access is vital for Americans and we need to ensure there is a free flow of ideas and strong competition,” said Senator Baldwin. “The FCC’s response to our letter is welcome news, as this guidance will help protect the principles of net neutrality that encourage growth of new industries and start-ups, improve education for young students and support the communications we use every day.”

“The FCC has taken an important first step toward enforcing its rules against companies whose zero-rating plans threaten a free and open internet.  The FCC should use its tools to enforce its net neutrality rules, so that what we can readily access on the internet is up to consumers - not a handful of powerful companies.” –Senator Elizabeth Warren

A copy of the FCC’s response to Senator Markey and the report can be found HERE.

While “zero-rating” describes a range of different practices, these offerings generally allow internet subscribers to stream certain applications, websites, and services without that data usage counting against a user’s data caps or toward overage charges.  Some of these offerings have presented net neutrality concerns.  In November, Senator Markey and the 6 other senators sent a letter to the FCC to take enforcement action against harmful “zero-rating” offerings that violate the principles of the Open Internet Order, which prevents Internet Service Providers from prioritizing, blocking, or throttling content. In the letter, the Senators argue that paid zero-rating can harm small and emerging services who cannot afford to have their content zero-rated, and offerings that favor Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) or unaffiliated content should be considered a violation of net neutrality.

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