AT&T Living Close to the Edge of Net Neutrality with New Data Plans

As you may remember, there was a large battle going on between policymakers, customers, and providers. To sum it all up, this struggle was about net neutrality. Providers wanted to be able to increase the bandwidth/speed of certain programs in return for a fee paid by the company behind the program. This was a big problem, since that when you do this you are removing the thing that is one of the pillars of the internet: Everone is equal.

The main worry was that when providers got that ability, the little man would be at a big disadvantage since it would have less money than large media conglomerates to spend on buying extra bandwidth. The FCC saw this program and banned the practice, but while doing this they left things out. One of these things came back to haunt us.

This is zero rating, basically meaning that apps like Spotify or Netflix could be used without counting towards the user’s data cap. Which at first seems like a great thing, as those are usually the apps that use the majority of the data.

It isn’t new at all, T-Mobile has been doing it for a long time, but now AT&T just started doing it on an alarming scale. They announced last night that DirecTV NOW would be a zero rating program. Which seems fine at first, but then you realize that they own DirecTV. Giving a company they own a big advantage in regard to other streaming services since customers will take into account that if an app used mobile data or not on their current plan.

AT&T does offer a sponsored data program allowing other companies to get the zero-rating program. But here it starts again, with companies paying to get a more favorable deal. So, for example, if Netflix wants to compete fairly with DirecTV, it would need to pay AT&T to spare its video traffic from data caps.

The thing is, T-Mobile and AT&T can get away with it because the customer is not really at a disadvantage, so there is not a reason for them to complain. AT&T has already had a slap on the wrist about proving zero-rating data to DirecTV customers. There is a possibility that the FCC could finally intervene in. However, with the upcoming Trump administration and the republican stance on the FCC, that might just be a vanishing hope. They’ve been trying to shut down the FCC for almost a decade.