FCC Asked To Monitor Consumer Impact Of Usage Caps

Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation want the FCC
to investigate the impact on broadband usage caps on consumers, asking the FCC
to require that info of AT&T, which has instituted the policy.

The FCC in its network neutrality rules recognized the value
of a usage-based pricing model and did not include it among the practices the
new rules would foreclose. But the groups call it a "shadow emerging"
to dim the dawn of a new broadband era, and want the FCC to collect info on
services that are excluded from the cap, how many people exceed the caps, and
much more.

They say given that 56% of broadband connections are
governed by some form of cap, the Wireline Competition Bureau needs to
"exercise its statutory authority" to get a handle on the impact,
particularly now that AT&T has moved to usage-based pricing, or what
they call "converting its data cap to a revenue source."

The letter cites financial analyst Craig Moffett of Sanford
Bernstein commenting that a cap "isn't about protecting against the data
network being swamped with excess usage. [T]his is about putting the business
model on a stable, long-term economic model."

"Our usage-based pricing plan is about offering a high-quality, fair and affordable broadband service for all of our customers," said an AT&T spokesperson. "It is designed to protect the low-volume consumer and provide the high-volume consumer with the necessary information (at least six notifications) prior to being billed for overages. It is narrowly tailored to ensure that only those who use the most bandwidth pay for it. In fact, 98% of our customers will not be impacted by our approach." 

The questions the groups want the FCC to get answers to are:

1. Which ISP-offered
services are excluded from the cap.

2. How often the cap is enforced.

3. What steps are taken to warn customers.

4. The amount of the average "penalty" in
additional fees.

5. How enforcement relates to congestion
6  How the caps and fees were determined.

7. How the caps are being evaluated.

The full letter, with footnotes is here.

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.