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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should require reports from AT&T about the impact of broadband caps on consumers, two public-interest groups said in a letter to the Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau.
Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative (OTI), told the Bureau that, "Caps on broadband usage imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can undermine the very goals that the Commission has committed itself to championing."
The letter is here.
The groups noted that 56 percent of U.S. broadband subscribers are subject to caps, and that AT&T's caps are "particularly aggressive" because they are lower than those of other carriers and charge consumers fees. "In addition to concerns raised by broadband caps generally, such a practice produces a perverse incentive for AT&T to avoid raising its cap even as its own capacity expands," the groups said.
As a result, PK and OTI asked for the Commission to monitor closely broadband caps by asking for reports on how the caps are implemented. Among other items, the groups asked the Commission to track:
• Which ISP-offered services are excluded from the cap. This should include reporting on those services, such as voice telephony and video programming, that compete with internet-delivered non-ISP controlled offerings.
• How often the cap is enforced. This should include the absolute number of customers who exceed the cap as well as the percentage of customers who run afoul of the limit. Additionally, it should include amount by which the customers exceeded the cap and how many of those customers are repeat cap exceeders.
• Steps taken to warn customers. This should include the steps taken to warn customers, and when those steps are taken. Additionally, the reporting should include data on the effectiveness of these warnings in preventing overages.
• Average penalty incurred by customers. Caps such as AT&T’s charge additional fees based on how significantly the cap is exceeded. Reporting should include data on the size of the penalties incurred by customers.
• The relationship of enforcement to times of network congestion. If used properly, data caps can a tool in easing network congestion. However, there is a constant threat that ISPs use network congestion as a pretext to act on other motives. The Bureau would benefit from a nuanced understanding of the relationship between data cap enforcement and network congestion.
• How data caps are set. For example, why did AT&T choose 150GB for DSL and 250GB for U-Verse customers? What criteria are used to arrive at the cap? What criteria are used to determine appropriate overage fees?
• How data caps are evaluated on an ongoing basis. Data caps are often defended as necessary to address current network congestion issues. However, network technology is constantly being modernized and made more efficient. In light of this pattern of improvement, caps that are appropriate for today’s network may be inappropriate in the future. How do ISPs evaluate their existing caps, and what are the conditions under which those caps could be raised and/or eliminated?
• When and how often a penalty is waived. In addition to the publicly announced grace periods, the Bureau would be well served by understanding how often and under what circumstances reporting ISPs grant additional waivers.