An Active Debate Over Whether Wireless Broadband Must Also Play Under Net Neutrality Rules

Broadband's Impact, FCC, Net Neutrality, Wireless September 29th, 2014

, Reporter, Broadband Breakfast

WASHINGTON, September 29, 2014 – Whether or not mobile Internet providers will be subject to the same net neutrality rules as wired broadband providers has become an increasingly prominent factor in the current debate over net neutrality rules.


The proposal laid out by the Federal Communications Commission in May would only be applicable to wired internet service providers, although the Commission did ask for public comments about what to do on the subject of mobile broadband. In its prior Open Internet Order of 2010, the FCC decided against including rules on wireless broadband. Instead, the agency said only that wireless providers could not block services directly competed with their own services. 

Now many technology companies, plus consumer and advocacy groups, have voiced their support for wireless services being covered by net neutrality rules.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler highlighted Microsoft’s comments in his speech at CTIA this year: “There is no question that mobile broadband access services must be subject to the same legal framework as fixed broadband access services.”

Google – which opposed including wireless services under net neutrality four years ago – this year switched sides regarding wireless inclusion in net neutrality: “These rules should apply regardless of whether you’re accessing the internet using a cable connection, a wireless service, or any other technology.”

Many in the wireless industry are nervous about new net neutrality rules. Meredith Baker, CEO of the wireless industry association CTIA, said that different rules should govern wired and wireless broadband. She made these comments both in her speech at the GSMA Mobile 360 summit on September 22 and in comments made in June. Wireless companies have continued to argue against this “platform parity” since “mobile broadband depends on public airwaves known as spectrum, which is a finite commodity with limited capacity,” said The New York Times.

“Our objective should be to preserve an Open Internet, not artificially impose the same set of rules on all platforms. Forcing all platforms under a single set of rules was rejected in 2010, and should be rejected again now.”

– CTIA CEO Meredith Baker

On Tuesday September 16, FCC held roundtable discussions on net neutrality, including one on mobile broadband. Wireless carriers reiterated their 2010 arguments that net neutrality rules would impair their ability to effectively manage their networks to maintain performance.

For example, AT&T throttles data speeds of customers with legacy unlimited data plans for the remainder of the billing cycle after they exceed 3GB of data. Droid-Life first reported that Verizon Communications will start performing “Network Optimization” on its top 5 percent of data users (those who use more than 4.7 gigabytes of data a month) with unlimited data plans in congested areas, similar to what T-Mobile and Sprint are already doing.

A legacy Verizon unlimited data plan costs $29.99 per month. $30 per month will now only get a customer 500 megabytes of data per month, and it costs $70 for a 4 GB plan. These prices don’t even take into account the $40 line access charge. Wheeler expressed his concern that throttling unlimited data plans could be about increasing revenue and not managing congestion back in the end of July in a letter to Verizon’s CEO, and followed up later by writing to all the major carriers to ask about their network management policies.  

In his CTIA speech, Wheeler said he knows that there has been “significant changes in mobile marketplace since 2010.” Earlier this month, he said that all options are still on the table. That may mean that net neutrality rules will be the same across both wired and wireless broadband platform, or the possibility of new, separate rules for the mobile internet.


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