A lawmaker on Thursday introduced a bill that would limit Internet service providers' ability to impose data caps on broadband.
The "Data Cap Integrity Act," unveiled by Sen. Ron Wyden, specifies that ISPs can only restrict data if doing so effectively manages congestion and doesn't also discourage Web use. ISPs that intend to implement data caps also must provide tools that enable subscribers to accurately measure their data consumption.
The restrictions would apply to outright limits on data, as well as pricing structures that charge people fees for exceeding the caps.
The measure also tasks the Federal Communications Commission with evaluating ISPs' plans and certifying that any potential data caps "reasonably limit network congestion in a manner that does not unnecessarily discourage use of the Internet."
The FCC also would have to certify that the ISP is accurately measuring subscribers' data use.
Wyden's bill contains language prohibiting ISPs for giving "preferential treatment" to material based on either its source or content. Wyden's office said in a separate statement that the restriction will prevent ISPs from entering into "sweetheart deals with content providers so their data does not count toward users’ data cap, which would provide large, deep pocketed providers with a competitive advantage."
Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge praised the bill. Christopher Lewis, vice president of government affairs, said in a statement that the organization "supports Sen. Wyden's effort to provide consumers with transparency on their data usage and to ensure that these caps do not limit innovative products and uses on the Internet."
Data caps and usage-based billing have drawn scrutiny from watchdogs in the past, but some FCC commissioners have endorsed pay-per-byte billing models.
Earlier this year, Comcast drew criticism when it said it would allow Xfinity subscribers to stream shows to their Xboxes without counting that data toward the monthly cap. That news sparked complaints from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who pointed out that Comcast's move disadvantages other streaming services. That's because data streamed through Netflix or other competitors will count toward the caps.
The Department of Justice launched an investigation of Comcast's move over the summer, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In September, Comcast began testing a pricing model that imposes data caps that range from 300 GB to 600 GB, depending on the subscription package. Users who exceed the limits face charges of $10 per 50 GB.