Major Carriers Targeted With Net Neutrality Complaint

Public Knowledge Wednesday signaled it plans to file Open Internet access complaints against the four major wireless carriers, saying that the had not sufficiently notified customers of policies slowing data speeds at peak periods for unlimited plan holders, thereby violating the FCC's Open Internet transparency rule, which remains on the books.

PK said it had sent letters to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon in relation to what it called their "throttling" of wireless data subscribers with unlimited plans as the beginning of the formal complaint process.

PK is not invoking the "no unreasonable discrimination" rule that did not survive court scrutiny, but the transparency rule that did. It requires ISPs.

The move follows a strongly-worded letter from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to Verizon raising concerns about its plans to extend that practice to 4G LTE service, and asking how it squared withe FCC's transparency rule. "'Reasonable network management' concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams," he said in the letter. "[H]ow can this conduct be justified under the Commission's 2010 Open Internet rules, including the transparency rule that remains in effect?"

The FCC's Enforcement Bureau also issued an advisory two weeks ago reminding carriers of their transparency obligations.

Verizon’s answer to Wheeler last week was that it was  “clearly apprising our customers of that under certain circumstances, the speeds of a few heavy users may be temporarily slowed at congested cell sited in order to provider a great wireless experience to all of our customers,” Verizon told Wheeler last week.

But PK is looking for more granular info and argues that transparency isn’t transparent enough without it to pass muster.

"Sprint and Verizon violate the transparency rule by failing to meaningfully disclose which subscribers will be eligible for throttling," it said in announcing the planned complaints. "AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon violate the transparency rule by failing to disclose which areas of the network are congested, thus subject to throttling. T-Mobile violates the transparency rule by preventing throttled subscribers from determining the actual network speed available to them."

“We look forward to reviewing Public Knowledge’s letter and will respond as appropriate. Sprint goes to great lengths to be transparent about its network management practices," Sprint said in a statement, pointing to Internet management info on its Web site.

AT&T also pointed to its Web site and a broadband info page that is says provides customers with the information they need abouut their service and in compliance with the FCC's transparency rule.

T-Mobile and Verizon had not returned requests for comment at press time, though Verizon made clear it thought its policy squared with FCC rules and common practice.

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.