The FCC recently lauded Binge On, a program released by T-Mobile that allows customers to stream unlimited video content from certain providers with no cost to their data usage (a process called zero-rating). This decision carries some big implications.
If you’ve been following the net neutrality debate, you may have heard about the FCC’s Open Internet Order, a group of rules aimed at protecting the rights of consumers while still being “pro-competition and pro-innovation,” according to FCC chief Tom Wheeler. The FCC adopted the Open Internet Order on February 26, 2015, and so the effects of it are still being gauged.
It’s an age-old question, that of government regulation in the market. The two big players being government and business, with consumers caught in-between. Opponents of the rules fear that over-regulation will stifle innovation and ultimately the competition. Such is the case with John Legere, the CEO of T-Mobile. Legere recently said that he doesn’t want to “let the FCC kill competition with over-zealous regulation.”
Legere speaks for a number of businesses that are afraid to generate new ideas, fearing that they may be shut-down by the government. It’s easy to see where he’s coming from. Companies pour a lot of resources into innovation and by necessity are reluctant to release information. To go through all of that work just to be told “no” is a tough pill to swallow. One lobbyist and a number of politicians have touted the line “Mother May I?” in regards to how companies feel about the need for government approval before pursuing innovative projects.
In the case of the Binge On campaign, T-Mobile got what they wanted, however, there are those who believe that this may be at the cost of consumer rights. The consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge faults T-Mobile saying, “Under its current model, customers might choose to use a service simply because it doesn’t count towards their data plans rather on its merits.” A valid concern.
But T-Mobile insists that they are not excluding any content providers from the service. All a provider needs to do is sign-up, and in the case of consumers, they can opt out if they want to use their data.
Part of the problem is a lack of specification in the Open Internet Order, which prohibits ISPs and mobile carriers from discriminating against different types of traffic, but does not address zero-rating. Could zero-rating be viewed as an indirect form of discrimination?
The Open Internet Order is a well-meaning policy. However, the FCC’s approval of Binge On’s campaign is both reassuring and troubling. It’s hard to tell in what direction things are going at this stage. As the Order develops, we’ll have a better idea.