Will We See Net Neutrality Enforcement?

Network_neutrality_poster_symbolThe FCC has not yet taken any direct action to enforce its new net neutrality decision. There have already been several ways that the agency has begun to use its new authority to regulate broadband under Title II regulation. But the agency has yet to directly act on the core issue of net neutrality.

It’s likely that the FCC was waiting for the courts to first resolve the challenges to the net neutrality ruling. Otherwise, anything they ordered might have been overturned by a negative court decision. But earlier this year the courts affirmed the FCC’s net neutrality order, and so it now seems to safely be the firm law of the land.

The basic premises of net neutrality are that the Internet is to be open and there is to be no blocking, throttling or paid prioritization by ISPs. There are a number of ISPs that have practices that seem to be a violation of the paid priority prohibition. For instance, the major wireless companies have plans to not count some video transmission as part of monthly data caps. The companies refer to these as ‘sponsored data’ and I they hope that somehow will excuse the practices from the net neutrality rules.

T-Mobile probably has the most egregious plans. The company has made arrangements with various content providers and over 100 video services are now available as part of its Binge On plan. This allows users to watch services like ABC, ESPN, Disney, NBC, Hulu, Netflix and Sling TV on their smartphones without the usage applying to monthly data caps.

Verizon has a more modest plan called Go90 which offers some unique content for Verizon cellphone customers that is not available anywhere else. This content is also exempt from data charges. But this might become a moot point since there have been several recent articles saying that the offering has gotten no traction with customers. But Verizon also just announced this week that they plan to zero-rate football games streamed to cellphones under the NFL Mobile app.

AT&T just announced a plan that looks to fall into the gray area. The company is going to start zero-rating the DirecTV app so that customers who buy both DirecTV and AT&T cellular service can watch the service on their cellphones without data charges. Their reasoning is that these are premium customers that already have a significant monthly bill from AT&T and that those bills cover the service. The company has plans to majorly revamp the DirecTV apps later this year and there is likely to be more of these package arrangements.

Comcast also has a questionable service. They send their TV anywhere content to customers outside of their monthly data caps. They have argued that they are using a technology that uses a separate data path than normal broadband, but it still seems to fail the net neutrality test. Comcast recently significantly increased its data caps which alleviates a lot of the concern, but there still must be customers who are going over the higher caps.

I’m thinking it’s highly unlikely that this FCC is going to tackle these issues. It’s likely the current Chairman will be replaced soon after the new year and the agency already has a number of other important proceedings it wants to wrap up soon, such as the current cellular auctions.

So this is probably going to be deferred for the next FCC chairman. And that means we’ll have to wait to see if that will be a democrat or a republican. It’s unlikely that a republican FCC would enforce net neutrality, and we can’t even be certain that a democratic chairperson would tackle the above issues.

I find it a little ironic that these issues are what supposedly prompted the net neutrality ruling, and yet nothing has been done. But the path chosen by applying Title II regulation to broadband opens up a ton of new topics for the FCC to consider like broadband privacy, data caps, truth in labeling and all sorts of other regulations associated with bandwidth products. And that’s where this FCC puts its attention this year.

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