Beginning yesterday, T-Mobile is offering a limited-time promotion tied to the wildly popular augmented reality game Pokémon GO, in which the mobile data used by the game will not count toward a customer’s data cap. This is yet another form of zero-rating, a practice that can raise serious concerns about competition policy, net neutrality, and consumer choice. Amidst a global Poké-craze, we shouldn’t lose sight of what this may portend for the future of the open internet. So we want to take the opportunity to raise a number of questions about this promotion which would also be important to answer for any other zero-rating service proposal. Before concluding anything about this promotion or any similar plans that may be proposed, it is important to better understand their potential dangers and benefits.
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the Wireline Competition Bureau had asked Comcast to explain its policy of applying data caps and overage fees to its broadband subscribers, while exempting its own streaming video service from the data caps. The Wireless Bureau sent letters to AT&T and T-Mobile asking them to explain the details of their respective data cap policies and address concerns raised by third parties.
Many people have been "cutting the cord"--cancelling their cable TV subscriptions--and watching more video online. Usually, however, their broadband provider is the same company that used to be their TV provider. Cord-cutters tend to use broadband more than non-cord-cutters, so large cable companies that want cord-cutters to start paying them more again have hit on a solution: just charge more for broadband.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission fined AT&T Mobility $100,000,000 for misleading its customers about unlimited data plans. The FCC alleges that AT&T slowed speeds for unlimited-data customers and also failed to notify customers that they could receive slower speeds than advertised. Public Knowledge raised questions about data throttling practices last year in a series of letters to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.