FCC's Wheeler beckons AT&T, T-Mobile on mobile data policies

The FCC wants a word with AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS) regarding their data policies, according to Reuters.

The commission sent letters to the two mobile carriers as well as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters Thursday, asking them to come in and "have a discussion with us about some of the innovative things that they are doing." The letters centered on data policies, Wheeler said.

As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, AT&T and T-Mobile are among a handful of broadband providers that are drawing scrutiny for some of their mobile data offerings. T-Mobile zero-rates content from specific providers for its Binge On video streaming service, and AT&T is experimenting with sponsored data in which a sponsor pays the data charges rather than the user.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) last week said it is planning to launch a sponsored data service early next year as well, and Comcast's Stream TV doesn't count against usage caps for consumers using Comcast services.

Some believe such models enable carriers to boost favored content, which would run afoul of the FCC's net neutrality guidelines. Such models favor powerful media companies, net neutrality backers have argued, and make it more difficult for smaller players to compete.

The FCC has not yet acted to address such services that may appear to skirt net neutrality principles, but the commission is clearly keeping tabs on the mobile and cable industries to monitor the data policies of service providers.

CTIA once again took issue with the FCC's stance following Wheeler's remarks. "Consumers benefit when mobile operators provide new services and offerings. U.S. mobile consumers are in the driver's seat, free to pick the service that's right for them, thanks to the robust competitive marketplace," said CTIA EVP Brad Gillen. "We need to promote and facilitate new offerings and innovations for consumers if we are to lead the world in mobile services going forward."

As the Reuters piece notes, a U.S. appeals court heard oral arguments earlier this month over the legality of the FCC's net neutrality rules in a case that may ultimately decide the issue.

For more:
- See this Reuters article

Related articles:
T-Mobile, AT&T and others draw scrutiny with zero-rated data
AT&T still 'very bullish' on Sponsored Data despite just 10 customers so far
Verizon to follow AT&T's lead with sponsored data launch in Q1 of 2016

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