Right through December of last year, the FCC had ongoing investigations into telecom giants including AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile over their use of zero-rated data services, viewing them anti-competitive and in violation of net neutrality rules. Unfortunately, these investigations were opened under outgoing FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, and part of President Trump’s restaffing has been appointing Ajit Pai as the new head. In turn, the agency has also revealed that it’s dropping the investigations.
If you need reminding, zero-rating is when data such as streaming music and video isn’t counted against a mobile users’ monthly limit. Examples include T-Mobile’s Binge-On, AT&T’s DirecTV Now streaming video service and Data Perks programs, and Verizon’s Go90 video service and their FreeBee Data 360 program. These services essentially favor data from certain sources, and put third-parties at a disadvantage — a violation of net neutrality principles.
In a set of letters revealed by the FCC on Friday, the agency has said there will be no more inquiries into AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Comcast over these practices. “Any conclusions, preliminary or otherwise, expressed during the course of the inquiry will have no legal or other meaning or effect going forward,” the letter read.
New chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that closing these investigations was a sign of a new direction for the agency. He added “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the FCC will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”