In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission began investigating whether certain wireless provider’s “free” data plans violated the FCC’s net neutrality rules. A coalition of internet groups, including Reddit, Yelp, Kickstarter, Etsy, Medium, Meetup, and Foursquare, among many others, along with digital and consumer advocacy groups, including Common Cause, Engine, and Fight for the Future, asked the FCC to act.
Zero-rating profoundly affects Internet users’ choices. Giving ISPs the power to favor some sites or services over others would let ISPs pick winners and losers online—precisely what the Open Internet rules exist to prevent. Because mobile networks are increasingly the way most Americans get online, mobile ISPs matter equally, and polls show more than 80 percent of voters, from liberals to conservatives, are concerned about ISPs having the ability to pick and choose content.
An internal Wireless Communications Bureau report agreed that these plans violated the Net Neutrality order. Last week, new FCC Chair Anjit Pai ordered the Bureau to rescind that report and shut down the investigations.
Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. 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.
- rescinded a Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau White Paper on “Cybersecurity Risk Reduction” that called for greater action in this area;
- rescinded another white paper – Improving the Nation’s Digital Infrastructure; and
- reversed the expansion of low income Lifeline grants to cover broadband services.
The Lifeline reversal was striking since Pai had only days earlier stated one of his top goals was “bringing broadband to all Americans.”
The most obvious fact in our society is that high-speed Internet is astronomically expensive for the middle-class and down. So in any way limiting the Lifeline program, at this moment in time, exacerbates the digital divide. It doesn’t address it in any positive way.