AT&T Isn't Backing Down On 'Data-Free TV'

Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission said AT&T appears to violate net neutrality principles with its "Data Free TV" offering, which exempts DirecTV video streams from wireless customers' data caps.

AT&T's response, issued Thursday, suggests it's not inclined to change its approach. "Data Free TV is precisely the kind of pro-consumer initiative this Commission should be encouraging," the company says in a letter to the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. "It delivers real value to consumers and provides another video streaming alternative to cable."

Net neutrality advocates have long argued that data-cap exemptions can ultimately harm consumers as well as over-the-top online video providers. Advocates argue that broadband providers shouldn't deploy zero-rating initiatives in ways that give customers an incentive to watch video from affiliated companies, like DirecTV, at the expense of competing services like Netflix or Amazon Prime.

But AT&T contends that consumers like being able to stream "data-free" video. "The Bureau’s approach ... would deny consumers a service they value, raise prices, lower consumption, and curb the disruptive potential of Data Free TV," the company writes.

The telecom points out that rival carrier T-Mobile said Thursday that it will give defecting AT&T customers one year's worth of DirecTV Now -- which would otherwise cost $35 a month. That move, according to AT&T, proves that its new offering is "driving innovation, lowering prices, and increasing consumer value."

AT&T also notes in its letter that Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, the two Republicans on the FCC, disagree with the Wireless Bureau's stance. "Two FCC Commissioners, both of whom will remain in office after the imminent change of administration, criticized this investigation and warned the Bureau against unlawfully usurping core policymaking powers that only the Commission may exercise," AT&T writes. "Their remarks confirm that the Bureau lacks delegated authority to pull the plug on Data Free TV and disrupt service to the millions of customers who now enjoy that feature."

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