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Public Knowledge Asks FCC to Investigate Data-Capped Broadband Plans

On the reports of the new iPad eating into mobile users' data-capped broadband plans big time, Public Knowledge Friday tried to goose the FCC into investigating those data plans.

The FCC has been reluctant to get into the issue of usage-based pricing on either the wired or wireless side beyond pushing for more spectrum to relieve capacity constraints that operators argue are behind the need to charge for heavy users of bandwidth.

"It is simply inexcusable that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has not even seen fit to ask wireless and landline carriers to explain why those caps are necessary, how they are set and how consumers are affected by them," said Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn in a statement.

PK twice last year asked the FCC to investigate data caps imposed by Verizon, AT&T on the wireless broadband side and Comcast on the wired.

"Millions of consumers and at least two major publications have now discovered that the new iPads which went on sale come with a hidden cost – the caps on data usage which wireless carriers put on consumers," said Sohn. "It's a ridiculous situation that the carriers sell millions of these devices specifically designed to view video on one hand, while they restrict the usage of their networks for video on the other."

Usage-based pricing could become a bigger consumer issue as more video is delivered via mobile devices and consumed by phone and tablet users. In a speech to a mobile media conference last month, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski cited figures projecting that global sales of tablets will exceed that of PCs by 2015. Smartphone sales have already done so, he added.

Among those circulating the report about the new iPad and its bandwidth-hungry video applications was the National Association of Broadcasters, which sent the story around with the note: "This should serve as a reminder that broadcasting's 'one-to-everyone' transmission architecture is much more efficient in delivering content than is wireless broadband." Or it will be when broadcasters get receiver manufacturers across the board to include tuners in their mobile devices.