Senate Democrats Praise FCC Zero-Rating Report

Some Hill Democrats were praising the FCC's report finding that some zero-rating plans may run afoul of network neutrality rules.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) had led calls for tough action on "harmful zero-rating offerings" they thought ran afoul of the rules and led the applause at the findings.

Zero-rating offerings exempt some services, including video streaming services, from counting toward a user's broadband data plan. In some cases, the service pays the ISP to exempt their content.

“In response to our inquiry, the FCC has issued clear guidelines on how to protect consumers from harmful zero-rating plans that violate the core tenants of net neutrality,” Markey said. “These guiding principles will help the FCC, industry, and the public evaluate zero-rating offerings and identify plans that distort competition, stifle innovation, and hamper user choice and free speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues to encourage the Commission to enforce these guidelines and ensure that the internet remains a permission-less environment where anyone with an idea or voice can participate.”

The FCC's senior Republican, Ajit Pai, signaled that the FCC under new management did not share the report's opinion.

But Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a big network neutrality fan and among those who joined in a letter to the FCC last November asking for the review, did share the FCC's concerns.

"A free and open internet has been a crucial engine for innovation and economic growth," he said. "That's why I'm pleased to see that the FCC has heeded our call and released a framework for evaluating zero-rating plans, which can often harm competitors and consumers. This report evaluating whether zero rating plans violate net neutrality will help make sure the internet remains the free and open platform that it's always been. Keeping the internet open is critical to our democracy.”

The FCC under Republican control is widely expected to roll back the FCC's approach to network neutrality, likely including the "general conduct standard" review under which the FCC concluded that AT&T and Verizon zero-rating plans were problematic.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), were also signatories to the letter and added their applause. 

“Despite clever branding gimmicks, so called ‘free data’ or zero-rating plans like those offered by AT&T and Verizon are a scheme to manipulate consumers and transfer money from their pockets to a company’s bottom line,” said Wyden. “This report lays the framework for ensuring zero-rating plans don’t betray net neutrality and is a step in the right direction towards maintaining a free and open internet.”

“I commend the Commission for undertaking this careful and thorough report on how zero-rating offerings may negatively affect consumers and competition,” added Blumenthal. “As wireless carriers look for creative ways to differentiate themselves, it would serve them well to take heed of this report’s findings and address any red flags in their own offerings. This report confirms my concerns that some zero-rating offerings not only subvert the spirit of net neutrality, but also unfairly distort competition, disadvantage consumers, and decrease choice.”

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.