Senators confront FCC on carriers throttling streaming video
One of the pillars in the current net neutrality discussion is how networks manage massive amounts of traffic headed to and from streaming video sites like Netflix and YouTube.
A group of three Democratic Senators — Edward Markey, Richard Bluenthal and Ron Wyden — have penned a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai to urge an investigation into how networks practice traffic throttling for video sites and how they disclose that practice.
Citing a study from Northeastern University (findings via Bloomberg), the lawmakers said they were concerned that customers weren’t aware of such policies and that “network management” couldn’t explain why some video sites were slowed while others weren’t affected and why throttling was not happening in response to demand, but all day long.
While T-Mobile and Sprint admitted that they engage in prioritization of certain service plans and claimed to be transparent about those practices, they buried notice of those practices. Length 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. FCC rules require disclosure of those practices in a manner “sufficient for customers to make informed choices” regarding their internet access services.
While T-Mobile’s controversial Binge On program, which zero-rated data charges for streaming throttled 480p video from certain publishers, got the larger discussion going, the standard 480p throttling clause actually came about when the same carrier reformatted its service plans in 2017 to the T-Mobile ONE umbrella.
The basic plan provided unlimited, unthrottled data for most purposes to a certain point, but put a speed cap on most streaming activities including gaming and listening to music. The company urged customers who wanted better quality to buy an add-on to their service plan. Since then, the other major US networks have adopted similar policies and product strategies.
The senators are looking for Pai’s response by February 27.