Dems Press Telcoms on Throttling Allegations

A trio of Democratic senators are grilling mobile carriers about allegations they were throttling internet traffic. 

The FCC last fall eliminated the rule against throttling traffic as part of its Restoring Internet Freedom (RIF) order, though ISPs said they had no plans to do so, and if they did they would have to inform the FCC and the public per the transparency requirement in the RIF order. 

In letters to AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, Sens. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said "all online traffic should be treated equally, and internet service providers should not discriminate against particular content or applications for competitive advantage purposes or otherwise,” citing reports they had throttled content from Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and NBC Sports, and wanted answers to the following questions: "Has your company put into practice policies to throttle or prioritize internet traffic for consumers? What is the purpose of these policies?

"Are consumers able to opt-in or opt-out of traffic differentiation? Does a customer’s choice change the price or affect their service, such as data allocation or requiring a different plan?

"How do you determine which network traffic receives faster or slower treatment? Is it based on content, behavior, or IP address?"

Asked about the senators' letter and the allegations of throttling, FCC chair Ajit Pai said that his understanding that the data that went into that throttling conclusion (the study was based on data collected from an app called “Wehe," according to the senators) had not been made available for vetting, but that any issues could be addressed by the Federal Trade Commission to the extent someone wanted to invoke its authority and that process was sufficient to protect consumers and competition.

CTIA, which represents telcom ISPs, said when the Wehe study first gained attention that it had "failed to account for basic wireless network engineering, consumer preference, and how mobile content is distributed over the internet."

CTIA says that what the app is actually detecting is "is basic wireless network management and operators delivering the service consumers choose," or it is measuring data management by content providers which, it says, "have data practices in place – outside the control of providers – that reduce video resolution of data traffic flowing through their sites or apps depending on the consumer’s mobile device."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.