Cable Lobby Presses FCC To Allow Pay-Per-Byte Billing

The cable industry is pressing the Federal Communications Commission to avoid outlawing pay-per-byte billing, which involves charging subscribers additional fees after they exceed a monthly data cap.

That type of usage-based billing “equitably ensures that consumers who use goods or services the most pay more, without having to raise prices for all consumers across the board,” representatives of the NCTA -- The Internet & Television Association argued to agency staff at a March 19 meeting, according to a summary filed by the group.

Consumer advocates have long opposed pay-per-byte billing, arguing that data caps are arbitrary, discourage cord-cutting, and hinder people's ability to engage in a variety of online activities -- ranging from distance learning to telemedicine to gaming.



Advocates also say data caps and pay-per-byte billing don't help broadband providers manage network traffic, unless the caps are directly tied to network congestion.

The cable group's argument comes as the FCC is considering whether to restore the Obama-era open internet regulations -- including bans on blocking or throttling content, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. When the FCC issued the rules, it announced a case-by-case approach to usage-based billing.

The prior neutrality regulations were passed in 2015, but repealed in 2018 during the Trump administration. Former chairman Ajit Pai, who championed the repeal, said at the time the prior rules were too heavy-handed. 

Neutrality proponents argue that rules are needed to prevent broadband providers from restricting consumers' ability to access streaming video, search engines and other online services and content.

The NCTA and other industry groups oppose the FCC's proposed open internet rules, arguing that broadband regulations should be set by Congress, not an agency.

During the March 19 meeting, NCTA representatives reiterated their opposition, but also said that if the agency moves forward with rules, it should take steps to “mitigate potential harms.”

In addition to avoiding a ban on usage-based billing, the cable group also says the FCC should prohibit states from passing tougher restrictions.

“State and local regulation would create significant burdens and uncertainty that would undermine the consensus goals of promoting increased investment, deployment, and innovation,” the organization wrote.

The industry group added that it wasn't asking the FCC to “expressly preempt any existing state net neutrality law as part of the as part of its order in this proceeding.”

Several states including California passed their own net neutrality regulations after the FCC revoked the national rules. The California law not only prohibits broadband providers from blocking or throttling traffic, charging higher fees for fast-lane service, but also bans providers from exempting their own video streams from consumers' data caps.

That law was upheld in 2022 by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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