The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is requesting that a federal judge uphold the agency’s authority to bring an enforcement action against AT&T for allegedly “slowing down the broadband connections of some unlimited data users.”
In sum, the FTC is asking U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen to reject AT&T’s claim that it’s a “common carrier,” and not subject to FTC jurisdiction.
“The Communications Act … unambiguously states that an entity may be treated as a common carrier only to the extent that it provides a common carrier service,” the FTC adds. “Mobile data is not a common carrier service,” notes MediaPost in a recent story.
This comes as everyone knows that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to pass new rules that reportedly will treat mobile broadband data as a common carrier service.
The legal battle between AT&T and the FTC dates to October, when the agency alleged that AT&T’s practice of slowing the broadband speeds of mobile users who pay for unlimited data is unfair and deceptive. The charges grow out of AT&T’s 2011 throttling policy, which allows the company to slow down the mobile broadband speeds of “unlimited” customers who exceed a data cap. Since implementing the policy, the company has slowed down more than 3.5 million customers, according to the FTC.
Tiered billing plan are a part of the problem.
“AT&T began throttling unlimited users soon after introducing “tiered” billing plans, which require customers to pay for a monthly allotment of data. The wireless provider still allows longtime users who previously had unlimited plans to avoid pay-per-byte billing, but reserves the right to slow them down after they hit a cap,” notes Media Post. “Currently, that cap comes to 3GB a month for customers on the 3G and HSPA+ networks, and 5 GB a month for people using the LTE network.”
But the FTC isn’t buying AT&T’s argument.
“AT&T’s reading of the common carrier exemption would open a giant loophole that would threaten to swallow the FTC Act,” the agency argues. “For example, Internet giants that introduce a small measure of common carrier business would be shielded from the FTC’s active privacy and data security enforcement because of their ‘status’ as a common carrier.”
The FTC adds that this scenario isn’t “merely hypothetical,” noting that Google reportedly wants to become a wireless carrier.
Other carriers, including Verizon, have come under recent criticism for similar throttling activities.