A group of 59 web companies this week asked the FCC to let them have a voice in its decision-making process surrounding the legality of zero-rating offers from wireless carriers.
In a letter sent to the FCC on Tuesday, Internet companies including Etsy, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Pinterest, Reddit and Yelp requested the FCC open a public review of zero-rating practices similar to the one the commission used to gather information ahead of its Net neutrality decision.
The letter was first spotted by CNET’s Marguerite Reardon on Wednesday.
“We urge you to open a public process to inform your evaluation of existing zero-rating plans,” the group wrote. “The FCC’s process in this critical area would be immeasurably enriched by the participation of diverse stakeholders, many of whose input helped shape the Open Internet rules.”
Zero-rating is a strategy used by Internet service providers to give consumers access to certain content without it counting against a customer’s data cap. Several different versions of the practice are currently in use by U.S. wireless carriers, including T-Mobile’s Binge On and Music Freedom programs and Verizon’s FreeBee sponsored data program. The latter allows content providers to cover the cost of a customer’s data usage while on certain apps or mobile websites.
In its February 2015 Net neutrality rules, the FCC did not explicitly rule out zero-rating programs but instead said it would consider them on a case-by-case basis. The web companies in their letter, however, said these smaller decisions could cumulatively have the same impact as a new rule.
While the FCC has already reached out to many of the carriers to get more information on their data practices, the group asked the commission to open the matter to the public for further information gathering just as it did ahead of its Net neutrality decision.
“Making decisions on these cases would set precedents for future practices, and would have implications for the Internet ecosystem that reach far beyond the stakeholders directly affected by these individual plans,” the letter said. “These decisions are too important to happen behind closed doors.”
The web companies’ letter comes on the heels of two recent white papers from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) that touted the benefits of zero-rating plans.
According to the MMTC and ITIF, zero-rating not only helps more low-income users get online but also benefits edge video providers who see more use of their products and network operators who gain more market share through differentiation.
However, the web companies who signed Tuesday’s letter and other Net neutrality advocates argue zero-rating programs allow exactly what the Net neutrality rules were meant to stop.
“Zero-rating profoundly affects Internet users’ choices, the letter said. “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.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations