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Groups Ask Senate to Make Data Caps Part of Online Video Hearing

Opponents of broadband data caps are urging the Senate Commerce Committee to make that issue part of the agenda for their April 24 hearing on the migration of video to broadband delivery.

In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the committee, Free Press, Consumers Union, New America Foundation and Public Knowledge argue that streaming by Netflix, Slingbox and Barry Diller's Aereo are threatened by "economically unjustified limitations and restrictions on data usage imposed by certain broadband Internet access providers," which it goes on to identify as AT&T and Comcast, for example.

While cable and phone company ISPs argue that caps help reduce congestion, the groups say that wired broadband net congestion is "virtually nonexistent," and when it does exist it is rare, only in specific locations, and temporary.

At the April 24 hearing, a top Nielsen executive plans to tell legislators that online video consumption is still a fraction (nine hours vs. 146) of viewing to traditional TV. The groups in their letter suggest a possible reason. "Data caps dampen the use of broadband generally and discourage high-bandwidth applications, like online video, specifically," they write.

Public Knowledge Monday also said it had sent letters to the heads of top wired and wireless broadband providers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, and to landline companies Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Cable seeking info about "how caps are set, how they are evaluated, and how they may evolve over time."

"This is a perfect example of how groups like Free Press operate under the flawed view that networks should be free, ignoring that they are actually built and maintained through significant and ongoing investments by wireless and other broadband providers," said Jot Carpenter, VP, government affairs, for CTIA: The Wireless Association. "They also pay little attention to the need to ensure that the data consumption patterns of a few do not impact the ability for the other users to have a high-quality broadband experience. If Free Press' misguided view prevails, the result will be a reduction in the investment that has made the U.S. wireless industry the world's leader in the deployment of 4G services."