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Verizon, FCC Chair Spar Over Throttling Plan

20 Aug, 2014 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – A new Verizon plan to deliberately slow down – or throttle – some of the company’s 4G LTE users who still use unlimited data plans has upset Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Even though the company no longer offers an unlimited-data option to new subscribers, it has allowed long-time users to retain their unlimited plans. But now Verizon is qualifying its definition of “unlimited” and says that it will manage congestion on the network by slowing down unlimited subscribers who consume more data than 95 percent of all users.

The plan received a cold reception from Wheeler who wrote in a letter to the company: “I know of no past commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service.”

Verizon replied that its practices were in line with those of other carriers and that it makes sense to throttle the heaviest data users on unlimited plans. “While this narrow practice will only be applied to customers on plans that do not limit the amount of data they can use in a month without incurring added data charges ... that reflects the fact that a small percentage of the customers on these plans use disproportionately large amounts of data, and, unlike subscribers on usage-based plans, they have no incentive not to do so during times of unusually high demand,” the company wrote.

Wheeler wasn’t swayed. “‘All the kids do it’ is something that never worked with me when I was growing up, and it didn’t work for my kids,” Wheeler said. “We have to be careful about attempts to reframe the issue.”

The FCC has reportedly asked other carriers about their network management practices. “My concern in this instance – and it’s not just with Verizon, by the way, we’ve written to all the carriers – is that it (network management) is moving from a technology and engineering issue to the business issues,” Wheeler said, Reuters reports.

The advocacy group Public Knowledge says that the carriers are violating a rule passed in 2010 that requires Internet service providers to disclose their network management practices. Public Knowledge is also looking to file a complaint against the carriers with the FCC.

Public Knowledge says that merely telling people that they might be throttled if they’re in the top 5 percent of data users isn’t all that informative, given that people have no way to know whether they’re in that category.

“Without access to network information, it is impossible for subscribers to translate ‘top 5 percent’ into an actual data amount on their own,” Public Knowledge says.

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