Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler isn't happy with Verizon's plan to start throttling some smartphone users who have unlimited data plans.
“It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its 'network management' on distinctions among its customers' data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology,” Wheeler said to Verizon in a letter dated today.
The FCC head is responding to Verizon's announcement that it intends to subject some 4G LTE users on unlimited plans to the “network optimization policy.” That policy allows Verizon to slow down heavy data users -- those who consume more data than 95% of other subscribers -- when they are “connected to cell sites experiencing heavy demand.”
Several years ago, Verizon stopped offering an unlimited-data option to new subscribers, but said that existing users would be allowed to retain their old plans. In 2012, the company also stopped offering subsidized phones to users who wanted to retain unlimited data.
Verizon said last week that people on the older, unlimited plans could simply switch to a usage-based plan if they were concerned about throttling.
But the obvious problem is that usage-based plans are likely to prove more expensive for the heavy users who potentially will be affected by Verizon's new policy.
In his letter, Wheeler doesn't take issue with the idea that a provider can manage its network in a way that reduces congestion. But he criticizes Verizon for attempting to do so by discriminating against users based on their data plans.
“'Reasonable network management' concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams,” Wheeler tells Verizon. “I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as 'reasonable network management' a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for 'unlimited' service.”