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Content discrimination gets a green light in the US

ajit pai

Ajit Pai: possible new FCC chairman?

  • FCC calls off invstigation into zero-rating
  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai completes his first act in dismantling net neutrality

The US ‘alternative fact’ crowd has been busy for several years undermining the concept of net neutrality and its demonstrable success. There’s been a relentless parade of fake research, fake grassroots (Astroturf) consumer organisations, fake talking points, and outrageous black to white truth reversals of the sort that even so-called president Donald Trump would be proud of.

But the most annoying of all has been the characterisation of what should be called ‘Cap and charge’ as ‘Free data’.

It’s also known as sponsored data - the practice of capping broadband data allowances and then either charging overages or taking payment upstream for zero rating to ensure a video or other content gets through once the user's data limit has been breached. Obviously without the cap, sponsored data would have no attraction to anyone and, equally, without free or exempt data or content, caps would have no utility either.

And that’s because caps make no sense. A properly dimensioned Internet access network has no need for a cap and even on an under-dimensioned network, congestion occurs when too many people are using it at the same time, not when some of them are using their link for longer periods of time than others.

Cap and charge is business discrimination, pure and simple, and doesn’t need any ‘study’ to find it so, though this is what it was getting under the old FCC chairman Wheeler who had launched an investigation and recently sent letters to AT&T and Verizon, telling them that zero rating violated net neutrality and harmed competition.  

All to no avail, of course, as the new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has just closed that Wheeler investigation with an almost palpable sigh of satisfaction. Pai had previously announced his intention to undo all of the Obama-era pro-consumer reforms, including net neutrality. This appears to be the start of that process.

That means the big ISPs in the US have been given a green light to carry on with their cap and charge fun and games - at least for the time being.

Pai released a statement on Friday: “Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers' free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace,” the statement said.

The removal of broadband caps in favour of reasonably-priced ‘ulimited’ data services as offered in many countries, including the UK where there is meaningful broadband competition, would be even more popular amongst American consumers.

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