The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) new net neutrality laws are already improving wireless internet service.
Since the laws went into effect on June 12, Sprint has been forced to stop curtailing customers' Internet speeds during busy periods.
Commonly referred to as "throttling," Sprint had been intermittently reducing data speeds for heavy wireless users when the network was overloaded during greater traffic, in spite of their subscriptions to unlimited high-speed plans.
After the FCC hit AT&T with a $100 fine for throttling on June 17, Sprint moved quickly to announce that it had already stopped the practice. Despite the FCC's interpretation that the new laws make throttling illegal, Sprint told the Wall Street Journal that it believes its policy still complies with new net neutrality rules, but has stopped the practice just in case.
"Sprint doesn't expect users to notice any significant difference in their services now that we no longer engage in the process," a Sprint spokesman said.
While it's true that most Sprint customers probably won't notice a difference – as they likely never had their bandwidth reduced – one can imagine that users who had been experiencing data throttling will notice a "significant" improvement in service.
Certainly the FCC saw AT&T's throttling as significant enough to incur a hefty fine. AT&T is accused of selling unlimited plans and then deliberately slowing users' data speeds after they had gone through five gigabytes of data in a single billing period. The carrier is claiming it did nothing wrong and is vigorously disputing the ruling.
AT&T changed its throttling policy last month to only curtail users in congested areas, rather than reducing speeds once a certain amount of data had been downloaded. The company, like Sprint, claims this policy complies with the new net neutrality laws.
AT&T and Verizon stopped offering unlimited plans years ago but still have customers on legacy plans. Other than Sprint, T-Mobile is the only major wireless carrier to still offer unlimited plans, and it claims that it would only throttle customers in extreme circumstances, for network management.
The FCC narrowly approved the new net neutrality laws in February, reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. Commission chairman Tom Wheeler and his democratic colleagues voted for the law changes but the two republican commission members opposed the change.
Critics have argued that the new laws will ultimately result in customers paying more for Internet access. Multiple lawsuits, including one from AT&T, have been tabled challenging the new rules. However, despite the ongoing lawsuits, a federal court last week denied a stay requested by AT&T and others. It seems in the short term, at least the laws are having a positive effect on customers' ability to browse the net.