Charter intends to follow the Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality rules for at least three years, even if they are shot down in court, the company promised today
“New Charter will not block or throttle Internet traffic or engage in paid prioritization,” the company said in its official application to acquire Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks for around $67 billion.
Charter (which will be called “New Charter” after the merger) also is vowing that it won't impose data caps on broadband subscribers, or charge customers based on the amount of data they consume, for at least three years.
Marvin Ammori, a longtime net neutrality advocate who was hired by Charter in connection with its proposed merger, writes today in Wired that the company is “offering the strongest network neutrality commitments ever offered.”
“In the end, I personally wrote the commitments,” he adds.
At the same time, he acknowledges that his “fellow advocates” likely will press Charter to make stronger promises -- including agreeing to follow neutrality rules and avoid data caps for longer than three years.
When Charter first announced plans to acquire Time Warner and Bright House, consumer advocates were skeptical of the deal, which would leave New Charter in control of approximately 22% of the high-speed broadband market.
One concern was that New Charter could impose the kinds of usage caps, or pay-per-byte billing systems, that would discourage customers from watching video via “over-the-top” services like Netflix or Hulu. Another related concern was that the broadband carriers could encourage subscribers use one company's video service, at the expense of the others, by exempting it from data caps.
Many net neutrality advocates have criticized that type of exemption -- also called “zero-rating” -- on the grounds that they allow broadband carriers to promote particular over-the-top services at the expense of others.
Charter won't be able to play favorites that way, because it isn't imposing data caps at all, Ammori writes.
“Since zero rating favors some sites over others based on the broadband provider’s preferences (not the users’), my allies and I urged the FCC to ban zero rating in all forms, but the FCC didn’t go that far,” Ammori writes. “Charter necessarily will. In fact, it will commit to no data cap at all–and no usage-based billing–therefore it will be unable to exempt any applications from those practices.”
For its part, Charter says it has no incentive to hinder online video distributors. “Charter's competitive strategy depends on its ability to support online video delivery,” the company says in its merger application.