Commentary

FCC Chair Takes Wait-And-See Approach To BingeOn

When T-Mobile announced BingeOn, industry observers quickly sounded alarms about whether the service would violate open Internet principles.

BingeOn, which launched on Sunday, allows T-Mobile to stream unlimited video from Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu and 20 other video providers. The service is open to any streaming video providers that meet T-Mobile's technical requirements, and is free.

But observers, ranging from advocacy groups to The New York Times, say that T-Mobile's approach could prove problematic. "There are real concerns about whether such promotions could give telecommunications companies the ability to influence what services people use on the Internet, benefiting some businesses and hurting others," the Times wrote in a recent editorial.

The paper added that it isn't clear whether BingeOn, and other zero-rating plans, "will inappropriately distort how consumers use the Internet."

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The Federal Communications Commission has not taken an official position on whether exempting certain material from data caps is problematic. When the agency published its net neutrality rules, it said it would take a case-by-case approach to evaluating whether data caps -- and exemptions from them -- are harmful.

This week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler reportedly signaled that the agency is not troubled by BingeOn. At least not yet.

"It is clear in the Open Internet order that we are pro-competition and pro-innovation and clearly, this meets both of those criteria," he told reporters in Washington on Thursday, according to Multichannel News. "It is highly innovative and highly competitive."

But Wheeler also said that the FCC will monitor T-Mobile's offering, in order to make sure it doesn't violate the so-called "general conduct" rule, which prohibits broadband providers from interfering with the ability of consumers and content companies to reach each other. "So, what we are going to be doing is watching Binge On, keeping and eye on it, and measure it against the general conduct rule," Wheeler said.

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