How Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler handles spectrum allocation and net neutrality issues is a far better measurement of his performance, but give him credit for taking a hard line with wireless carriers on broadband speeds.
Today, Wheeler called bullshit on Verizon’s explanation for why it throttles wireless data speeds for heavy users during peak usage hours.
“’All the kids do it’ was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and it didn’t work with my kids,” Wheeler told reporters on Friday.
Earlier in the week, Verizon had said that throttling “has been widely accepted with little or no controversy,” pointing out that its competitors Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T also throttle speeds as a way of maintaining network capacity.
Wheeler has suggested that the carriers are simply trying to make more money from heavy data users.
Indeed. Wireless carriers are legitimately concerned about capacity, as consumer appetite for data service continues to grow. But the carriers also appear to gaming the situation by creating an artificial scarcity of bandwidth as cover for raising prices.
Throttling, I would argue, is used as a marketing tool far more than it’s used as network management tool. You’ll notice that for every heavy user that gets throttled, there’s always a more expensive service level for them to move up to.
Wheeler says it somewhat more diplomatically: “My concern in this instance is that it is moving from engineering and technological issues into business issues.”
Another problem with throttling is that the consumer often doesn’t know how or when it will happen, and what they can do to prevent it. There’s just no transparent system of predictable rules around the practice.
The consumer group Public Knowledge recently filed letters with all four major wireless providers complaining about the transparency issues. The group also points out that the lack of transparency violates the FCC’s transparency regulations.
Public Knowledge said that it’s just writing letters now, but that it might file a formal complaint if the carriers don’t change their practices.
Before coming to the FCC, Wheeler served as president of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) and then CEO of the wireless carriers’ industry group, the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
With the possible exception of a highly controversial (but possibly practical) plan for network neutrality proposed in May, the former lobbyist has not pandered to cable and wireless carriers. He’s even proposed raising the minimum speed services must deliver to even be called “broadband.”
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