FCC Urged To Outlaw 'Harmful' Data Cap Exemptions

Broadband carriers should be prohibited from exempting their own content or apps from subscribers' monthly broadband allotment, digital rights groups argue in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.

The groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge, are specifically urging the FCC to follow California's lead in banning some forms of "zero-rating," meaning data-cap exemptions. That state's net neutrality law, which went into effect in 2021, prohibits broadband providers from zero-rating their own apps, and from charging apps to be zero-rated.

“Harmful forms of zero-rating can help the biggest platforms fight off competition or let [carriers] give their own apps an unfair advantage,” the groups write, adding that zero-rating also gives carriers an incentive “to maintain more restrictive data caps.”

The advocacy groups' filing comes as the FCC is considering whether to revive Obama-era net neutrality rules that imposed some common carrier obligations on broadband providers -- including bans on blocking or throttling traffic, and charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.



That proposal calls for a case-by-case approach into zero-rating.

In the past, AT&T and Verizon exempted their own video streams from consumers' data caps. Tom Wheeler, who headed the FCC during the Obama administration, criticized those companies' zero-ratings policies, but the agency closed an investigation into the practices during the Trump administration.

The digital rights groups are also urging the FCC to tweak the proposed ban on throttling by adding an explicit prohibition against selectively speeding up apps.

Without such an express ban, providers could “take advantage of that lack of specificity by speeding up the most popular video services, while leaving out all other video services, including upstart entertainment services like DropOut, federated platform alternatives like PeerTube, or video services used by activists and churches,” the groups write.

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