On Friday, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to suspend its probes investigating the potential that three major telecommunications companies had violated net neutrality rules through their data plans. As such, the FCC’s wireless telecom bureau sent update letters to the likes of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to inform them of the cessation.
This is the first [of many?] sign(s) that the FCC is changing under the guidance of new Chairman Ajit Pai. The Republican has been a staunch critic of these rules, rules which aim to prevent companies from charging higher prices to consumers who want faster web service.
In the letter, acting FCC Telecommunications bureau chief Nese Guendelsberger notes, “Through this letter, I am notifying your company that the [Telecommunications Bureau has closed this inquiry. Any conclusions, preliminary or otherwise, expressed during the course of the inquiry will have no legal or other meaning or effect going forward.”
At the core of the issue lies the “zero-rating” plans, which internet providers to give customers free data to users when they use certain apps. Critics argue that this violates the principles of net neutrality; an idea that all internet traffic should be treated as the same (even though they are obviously not). Companies, of course, defend the plans, saying they are popular with customers (obviously) because it provides more options for easier web access.
Mignon Clyburn, who is the sole Democratic commissioner on the FCC, lambasted this cessation decision. She also took a turn at lashing out against Pai for several actions he took on Friday.
Clyburn comments, “It is a basic principle of administrative procedure that actions must be accompanied by reasons for that action, else that action is unlawful. Yet that is exactly what multiple Bureaus have done today. The Bureaus rescind prior Bureau actions by simply citing a rule that allows them to do so, when in prior invocations of that rule there have been oft-lengthy explanations for the reasoning behind the actions.”
In a separate statement, Pai maintained that this move is just a preview of what we can continue to expect under his leadership. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace.”
He goes on to say, “Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”