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McCormick on Zero Rating Review: FCC Must Be Very Careful

USTelecom president Walter McCormick says the FCC needs to approach zero rating plans "very, very carefully."

McCormick was talking on C-SPAN's Communicators series about the commission's meetings with ISPs—including Comcast, T-Mobile, AT&T and likely Verizon—about their respective plans.

Those meetings stem from the FCC's new Open Internet rules, under which it is taking a case-by-case approach to practices that could conceivably run afoul of its general conduct standard. Some have complained zero rating plans are at least potentially problematic if their goal is to anti-competitively favor some content over others.

McCormick said that the FCC's role is consumer protections, a sentiment FCC chairman Tom Wheeler shares, and so the question before the FCC should be "who bears the cost of the Internet."

He said USTelecom thinks all the costs should not necessarily be borne by the end user to pay a rate "that maybe does not reflect the use that they are getting or the value they are receiving."

He framed the issue in terms of penalizing the poor in service of the rich.

"Why should a wealthy social elite who has multiple HD televisions and is simultaneously streaming three channels of HD to their home be subsidized by a low income who wants e-mail to allow their children to do homework and be able to have healthcare functions," he said, and warned the FCC not to distort the market, but allow it to develop "in a way that allows the greatest benefits to inure to the consumer."

Christopher Lewis, VP of government affairs for Public Knowledge, who was also interviewed for the show, said that general goal of affordable broadband was his as well. But he also wanted to make sure consumers had access to "all the great opportunities that the Internet offers." He said when you start to see a two-tiered Internet created because of any competitive way data caps and zero rating is applied, that causes concern."

He pointed out that new educational applications are often video-driven and "if students are worried about a data cap because some video is exempted and others are not, that is a concern."

He said Public Knowledge wants to make sure that data caps and zero rating does not prevent other innovative services from launching.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC continues to collect info on the zero rating plans—an effort delayed somewhat by the recent snow storm, but that it is only a information-gathering process at the bureau level.

The Communicators episode airs Saturday (Jan. 30) at 6:30 pm ET, with a re-airing Monday (Feb. 1) at 8 a.m. ET.