The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly taking a harder look at programs from carriers that explicitly exempt certain kinds of traffic from data caps. One common aspect of net neutrality is the idea that certain kinds of data shouldn’t be favored over others, so the fact that some things are exempt while others are not raises questions.
Specifically, letters sent to AT&T, Comcast, and T-Mobile essentially ask that the three of them provide information and access to business and technical personnel so the FCC can better understand how each company's program works and where they fit in the grand scheme of “maintaining a free and open Internet while incentivizing innovation and investment from all sources.” The letters also ask that the companies comply no later than Jan. 15, 2016.
According to Ars Technica, FFC Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters on Dec. 17 that "this is not an investigation. This is not any enforcement. This is to help us stay informed as to what the practices are, as we said we would do in the Open Internet Order." That “Open Internet Order” is what’s better known as the FFC’s stab at net neutrality rules.
Though the Open Internet Order doesn’t specifically forbid data caps or exemptions to them, there is some language included in the rules that provides guidelines for how carriers should act — and the letters raise questions as to whether those guidelines are being met.
AT&T’s Sponsored Data, for example, allows companies to pay to exempt data associated with their content from the caps, and T-Mobile’s Binge On program has specific exemptions in place for certain kinds of streaming. Of note as well is that Wheeler previously praised T-Mobile’s Binge On program for being pro-competition and pro-innovation. Comcast’s Stream TV service has a similar kind of data exemption, often known as zero rating, associated with it.
Again, it’s not that the FCC appears to be accusing them of any wrongdoing at this juncture so much as they’re looking to learn more about each company's program. It also appears that the government agency is at least somewhat divided on the issue, with FCC Commisioner Ajit Pai going so far as to tweet that, “The era of permissionless innovation is over.”
Source: Ars Technica