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FCC Wants To Know How Wireless Carriers Manage Data

Last month, Verizon Wireless announced that starting October 1, it will begin throttling the speed of a specific group of 4G LTE customers still on the ancient unlimited data plans. More specifically, the company is targeting the top 5 percent of its "Unlimited" customers who are using more than 4.7 GB of data in a single billing period. However, the company pointed out that the throttling will only kick in if the customer is on a congested tower.

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, wasn't happy about the news (pdf), reporting that he was "deeply troubled" by Verizon's so-called "Network Optimization" policy.

"'Reasonable network management' concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its 'network management' on distinctions among its customers' data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology," he told Verizon.

Verizon's Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory Affairs, Kathleen Grillo, responded to Wheeler's letter, reporting that Verizon turns off the throttling when the congestion on the tower clears up. Essentially, the company doesn't want the top 5 percent "data hogs" to leave all other customers suffering from slow connections. That simply wouldn't be fair.

Last week, Public Knowledge reported that it sent formal complaints to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless regarding the data throttling practices. The letters explained that AT&T, Sprint and Verizon violate the transparency rule because they don't openly disclose where the congestion resides when it happens. T-Mobile violates the transparency rule because it doesn't provide throttled customers with information about their actual network speed.

"In order to comply with the FCC's transparency requirement, Sprint and Verizon must publish monthly data-based thresholds (as opposed to merely percentage-based thresholds) for throttling eligibility.  AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon must publish real-time information about parts of their network that are congested enough to trigger throttling," the organization said.

Public Knowledge added that this information must be provided in an open environment and in accessible formats.

Now the FCC wants answers from all four North American carriers. On Friday after the monthly FCC public meeting, Wheeler told journalists that the FCC has written to all carriers, not just Verizon. Wheeler is concerned that wireless carriers are moving away from "a technology and engineering issue to the business issues ... such as choosing between different subscribers based on your economic relationship with them."

The FCC has requested answers to questions that are similar to the ones received by Verizon weeks ago. In Verizon's case, Wheeler wants to know why the throttling technique has been extended from its 3G service to the "more efficient" 4G LTE network. He even asks why Verizon treats customers differently who are based on different data plans. Another question covers Verizon's obligations under the 700 MHz C Block open platform rules.

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  • XxXGunXxXGraveXxX
    People always ask why i dont have a smart phone and this kind of stuff is why. If i pay for a phone that can play 1080P videos off the internet and i have to pay the ridiculously high monthly bills i expect to have no data restrictions on how much data i use. If i want to use 50gb a month in pretty sure the 80$ or more per month bill should cover that and then some. You might say deal with it thats how it is, so i did deal with it and i use a 10$ tracfone for when i really need to talk while im out, and i have my free VOIP home phone that works just as good as anything.
    Reply
  • Murissokah
    People always ask why i dont have a smart phone and this kind of stuff is why. If i pay for a phone that can play 1080P videos off the internet and i have to pay the ridiculously high monthly bills i expect to have no data restrictions on how much data i use. If i want to use 50gb a month in pretty sure the 80$ or more per month bill should cover that and then some. You might say deal with it thats how it is, so i did deal with it and i use a 10$ tracfone for when i really need to talk while im out, and i have my free VOIP home phone that works just as good as anything.

    Hah, you should try my country. Typical carrier data plans cap bandwidth over 500mb a month or 10mb a day, whichever comes first. 50GB is the monthly cap for DSL connections on many providers. I got a 5000 USD (yes, 5 grand) bill from my provider regarding 32GB of monthly 3G usage.
    Reply
  • Patrick Tobin
    Last month I used 119GB of data on my phone watching netflix streaming on my HDTV through Slimport on my Nexus 5. No thottling going on here ;) T-Mobile's unlimited plan rocks.
    Reply
  • aberkae
    Wow i use 30 gigs on average 119 gig is crazy t-mobile 10 years customer.
    Reply
  • Zeroplanetz
    All smartphone plans should be unlimited data with maybe a price about $40 to $50. And I really really hate this mobile data sharing these companies are trying to push. I refuse to move to that type of plan. So we go from unlimited plans to sharing 2 to 10gb a month. For virtually the same cost yet they want us to think its cheaper for the consumer now. Pffft.
    Reply
  • hokkdawg
    Just want to echo the theme of these comments - Verizon capping people using over 4.7 GB of data? What about those of us who actually PAY for 6GB or more per month? Lame.
    Reply
  • dovah-chan
    Average money grabbing businesses. AT&T and Verizon are both amongst many ISPs who are going against net neutrality charging many sites in order to give their subscribers better connections to the site. (ie netflix)

    This is outrageous and should be taken very seriously. Why do these companies always need more money when they all have so much of it?
    Reply
  • thechief73
    Somewhat off topic, but in the last cellular article didn't someone politely ask to stop using that ridiculous gory photo? YES! they did and I have to fully agree with them. The is no place for that and if you think there is you have issues. And FWIW, I also refuse to pay for those stupid phones and their overpriced services as well.
    Reply
  • Anakha00
    Just to clarify for you hokkdawg, this only applies(for now) to the Verizon customers that are locked into the older unlimited data plans. As for Wheeler being "deeply troubled" by this news, well I guess Verizon is going to have to start putting a little more in his pockets each month to get past this huh?
    Reply
  • razor512
    Throttling based on total bandwidth use does not make sense, as it has nothing to do with congestion. a network is limited by simultaneous throughput. Meaning what a user did in the past should have no impact on the network today. A user who downloaded 4.7GB of data a few days ago will not make for them trying to go to a website like CNN.com any harder on the network than a user who did nothing on the network before trying to go to the same website.
    Verizon is applying the throttling to users on the unlimited plans at traffic levels that is less than some users who are on a limited plan where they pay for a fixed amount of data.

    Also the fact that they are throttling instead of upgrading also goes to show what they think about their customers.
    Reply