Major internet companies banded together earlier this week to urge the FCC to look into what they consider a violation of net neutrality.
On May 24, a group of online businesses including Kickstarter, Reddit, and 56 others sent a public letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the related commissioners urging them to looking into ‘zero rating services’. These allow internet providers like Comcast and mobile carriers like T-Mobile to make some services exempt from counting against a customer’s data cap.
While the providers have been known to say these services benefit their customers, the coalition disagrees. “Zero-rating profoundly affects Internet users’ choices,” the letter states. “ Giving ISPs the power to favor some sites or services over others would let ISPs pick winners and losers online—precisely what the Open Internet rules exist to prevent.” The website for the organization is hosted by activist group Fight for the Future.
Wheeler himself has given some support to zero-rating services, calling them “innovative” and “highly competitive” in an open FCC meeting back in November 2015. The FCC chairman took some criticism for these comments from a few outlets. In the past, some, like the New York Times, have also called Wheeler’s position a conflict of interest. Before being Chairman of the FCC, he was a lobbyist as well as CEO of Cellular Communication & Internet Association.
A number of zero-rating services have popped up over the past few years from most major carriers including two from T-Mobile. Their Music Freedom service went live in June of 2014 and Binge On in November 2015, covering music and video services. In November 2015 Comcast announced a new streaming TV service that won’t count against home internet caps (though their explanation in their FAQ is that this runs over their cable lines and not the internet). In the time since, the FCC met with T-Mobile and Comcast.
The goal of the letter is to create an open forum for public comments, an action the FCC took when investigating public support for net neutrality leading up to the establishment of the Open Internet rules in early 2015.
This call comes at a crossroads time for the FCC, as the GOP controlled House of Representatives attempts to remove the commission’s ability to enforce net neutrality rules. Despite polling showing support for net neutrality, the House Appropriations Committee will look to cut $69 million (leaving $315 million) from the FCC budget in 2017, limiting their ability to enforce these rules or examine additional cases like zero-ratings. This is also $43 million below the FCC’s estimated needs for the year. ArsTechnica pointed out that this will also hurt the commission’s plans to examine TV set-top boxes. They also noted that Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) had received $25,000 from telecom companies in the current election cycle.
“We are still reviewing impacts and we will work with the committee staff to make them aware of potentially critical resource shortfalls,” an FCC spokeswoman told PCMag.
Similar anti-net neutrality proposals were also included in the 2016 appropriations budget, leading to the White House issuing a letter asking for them to be removed.