Wireless carrier T-Mobile plans to slow down smartphone users on “unlimited” plans who use the company's network to access peer-to-peer services, the company confirmed this week.
“A very small number of our customers are misusing their Simple Choice Unlimited data service in violation of their rate plan and terms and conditions by ... engaging in peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing,” a spokesperson said in an email to Online Media Daily.
T-Mobile adds that this group of subscribers might hinder the company's ability to offer unlimited data plans. “We will be reaching out to these people to educate them on our terms and conditions of service, but if the misuse continues, they could have their data speeds reduced for the remainder of their billing cycle,” the spokesperson wrote.
News of T-Mobile's plans was first reported this week by TmoNews, which obtained a copy of an internal memo outlining the plan.
The carrier's decision has already come in for criticism from the advocacy group Public Knowledge, which points out that peer-to-peer services are legal. That organization says that T-Mobile's move shows the need for “strong” net neutrality rules, which would prohibit carriers from discriminating against lawful services.
In 2008, the Federal Communications Commission sanctioned Comcast for violating Net neutrality principles by throttling peer-to-peer users. A federal appellate court later vacated that decision on the ground that the FCC hadn't yet formally enacted neutrality regulations.
“How often does history need to repeat itself before we learn that, absent a strong network neutrality rule, carriers will rationally chose to block content and services to benefit their bottom lines at the expense of the broader public?” Public Knowledge asks in a blog post.
Public Knowledge vice-president Michael Weinberg adds that even people who consume a great deal of data won't necessarily affect other subscribers. “Until a network is congested, it doesn't matter how much data is used,” he tells Online Media Daily.
For instance, he says, people who use high bandwidth applications in the middle of the night, when overall network use is relatively light, aren't likely to cause the kinds of bottlenecks that could slow down traffic.
T-Mobile's plan comes at a time when wireless carriers are under increasing regulatory scrutiny -- particularly with respect to their definition of “unlimited” data. Earlier this month, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he asked all of the wireless carriers to provide more information about the circumstances under which they slow down “unlimited” subscribers.
Wheeler's inquiries were prompted by the news that Verizon will start managing congestion on its network by throttling people on unlimited data plans who consume more data than 95% of subscribers. “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,” he told Verizon last month.