Senate Democrats are asking the Federal Communications Commission to investigate how mobile carriers handle video streams, and whether they adequately disclose those practices to consumers.
The request, made by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), stems from a November report accusing the four major wireless carriers of throttling video.
In many cases, the throttled connections were 1.4 Mbps -- around the minimum needed to stream standard definition video, but too slow for high definition. The study also concluded that no carrier throttled video from all providers. The report -- issued by researchers at Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Stony Brook University -- was based on data collected from more than 100,000 people who use the Wehe app.
“The Wehe results ... reflect the real experiences of millions of Americans with smart phones and mobile broadband access,” Markey and the others write in a letter sent to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week. “The Commission must consider these findings and exercise its oversight role to protect consumers.”
Until this June, the Obama-era net neutrality rules prohibited carriers from blocking or throttling traffic. The Federal Communications Commission officially repealed the Obama-era rules last June, replacing them with a mandate that carriers disclose their traffic management practices.
But the prior rules allowed carriers to engage in “reasonable” network management practices -- which could include slowing down mobile video.
Markey and the other lawmakers previously asked the major carriers to explain their traffic management practices, including whether they slow down streaming video.
“The responses we received ... failed to answer many of our questions, leaving us even more concerned about the carriers' practices,” the lawmakers tell Pai.
The wireless companies previously told lawmakers that some of the report's findings could be explained by network management practices. But the lawmakers are telling Pai that network management alone can't explain why the carriers only throttled video from some providers.
The senators also say questions remain about how companies describe their traffic management practices to consumers.
“Lengthy terms and conditions or small text at the end of webpages using broad terms should not be considered disclosure, nor are they the basis of effective consumer choice or control,” the senators tell Pai. “The Commission should investigate whether these boilerplate, difficult-to-find, and hard-to-reach disclosures comply with current laws.”
They are requesting a response from the FCC by February 27.