Consumer groups sent a letter to the FCC last week accusing low-cost carrier, MetroPCS, of violating the Open Internet Order by limiting user access to services.
The Center for Media Justice, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation and Presente.org submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission stating MetroPCS is causing a new digital divide between mobile and fixed line users by limiting what services mobile users can access.
When MetroPCS launched its long-term evolution (LTE) network it changed the way the carrier sets up its mobile broadband plans. Originally, plans were tiered by data caps; under the new plans, users have unlimited data but must pay for additional services.
The basic plan offers users access to "unlimited talk, text, 4G Web browsing with unlimited YouTube access.” Two additional tiers offer users different levels of access to GPS features, mobile instant messaging and access to the music service MetroSTUDIO.
In the letter to the FCC, the consumer groups say “MetroPCS’s plans will restrict consumer choice and innovation in a developing mobile market, all for the sake of further padding the company’s bottom line. And if permitted, these practices will inspire others to follow suit.” The letter then goes onto state that the new plans will block users from accessing Skype and Netflix.
While the groups claim that tiering by service access is a new phenomenon, two of the three major mobile providers also engage in the practice. Verizon and AT&T charge extra for access to their music products, GPS programs, and video products. Sprint is the only provider that offers users access to all of their extra services.
It is unclear if charging for these services violates the FCC's recent Open Internet Order. The order’s anti-blocking provision simply states that carriers may not block access to lawful websites, or applications that compete with the carrier's voice or video services, subject to reasonable network management. The phrase "reasonable network management" is not defined in the order, which has drawn fire from critics who say that the Order is too vague.
MetroPCS does not appear to block users from accessing Google Maps GPS feature, and even explicitly touts the access users will have to YouTube.
All of the carrier's internet plans offer users unrestricted access to the internet but charge users for access to specialized services offered by mobile providers. The Order does not enforce any restrictions on specialized services but it does state that the Commission will observe how users are being charged for these services.
“The complaints about our new, pro-consumer, pro-competitive 4G LTE rate plans are erroneous.," said MetroPCS, Roger Linquist, through a statement. "We continue to offer consumers a full service, unlimited data plan. We increased consumer choice by adding two new rate plans that are less expensive and enable consumers to select the service and content they want at a price point they can afford. These new rate plans comply with the FCC's new rules on open mobile Internet.”