FCC calls for meeting with T-Mobile, AT&T and Comcast about “zero-rated” data schemes
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler previously spoke of T-Mobile’s new Binge On service rather kindly, calling the paid-for streaming data perk “highly innovative and highly competitive.” The FCC is also eyeing AT&T as it has a Data Perks program that trades filling sponsored surveys for up to an extra gigabyte on your account each month. And in those veins, Comcast has introduced an unlimited access “Stream TV” program that is described as “a cable service that only works in the customer’s home.”
Today, Wheeler announced that he’s requested meetings with the three companies about these data schemes making access to specific buckets of content free for the end user — also known as “zero-rated” schemes. These schemes can, but does not always allow for third parties to sponsor users data in exchange for free access to certain content.
Letters on behalf of the commission, the Wireless Telecommunication Bureau and the Wireline Competition Bureau sent to T-Mobile, AT&T and Comcast noted that the organizations wanted to “have all the facts” on the programs — an FCC spokesperson called the meetings an “informal review.”
The commission has previously vouched interests to make sure that business developments don’t collide with net neutrality principles prohibiting favoring one service over another in allotting bandwidth.
“This is not an investigation. This is not any enforcement,” Wheeler said during a press conference today.
Wheeler requested that the three companies make relevant representatives available for meetings by January 15. T-Mobile has explicitly agreed to sending representatives to meetings while Comcast promises to participating “in the FCC’s fact-gathering process.” AT&T will respond “as appropriate,” with a spokesperson going to say that the company is “committed to innovation without permission and hope the FCC is too.”
The five-member commission’s two Republican members believe that the meetings are in fact investigations as to “whether or not those services comport with the net neutrality regulations.”
A notable excluded mention goes to Verizon, which is currently testing a sponsored data program set to go public early next year.