T-Mobile urges FCC to 'tread lightly' regarding net neutrality

T-Mobile (NYSE:TMUS) continued to defend its Binge On program and urged the FCC to "tread lightly" while attempting to address net neutrality concerns in mobile, according to a report from The Hill.

The carrier's zero-rated video service appears to be a hit with some customers, but T-Mobile continues to take criticism for its policies of slowing data speeds and downgrading the quality of all video for Binge On users. The FCC last month said it had "productive" talks with T-Mobile after it asked the carrier to explain its data policies, but Kathleen Ham, who heads up the company's government affairs, said the agency shouldn't view mobile and fixed-line service providers through the same lens when it comes to net neutrality.

"The commission has to tread lightly," Ham said at an event hosted by the Open Technology Institute, according to The Hill. "And certainly more lightly than for the wired world in the wireless space -- when there is so much experimentation happening, so much differentiation happening…. We have to make sure the customer has choices, but I think it is wise to tread lightly in this environment when there is so much going on."

Indeed, T-Mobile has repeatedly noted that users can turn Binge On off at will, incurring data charges in exchange for higher quality video and faster video transmission speeds. And in a bit of a concession to its critics, the carrier recently announced that it had made it easier for customers to manage their Binge On settings by reducing the number of clicks necessary on the web and the app, as well as introducing new short codes.

Ham's lobbying notwithstanding, concerns over net neutrality are sure to grow in 2016 as carriers increasingly experiment with zero-rated data. AT&T has experimented with sponsored data for more than a year and may launch some kind of zero-rated video offering this year. And Verizon last month expanded into sponsored content with the launch of FreeBee Data, which enables content providers to pay the carrier for the delivery of their wares to customers.

Net neutrality proponents say zero-rated data services are unfair because they favor major media companies at the expense of smaller players that may not be able to comply with technical requirements or afford to pay for sponsored services.

Wheeler has demonstrated willingness to pursue net neutrality in mobile as well as in the world of fixed-line broadband. The FCC may not aggressively enforce net neutrality principles in mobile anytime soon, but carriers are sure to draw more scrutiny as they expand more deeply into zero-rated offerings.

For more:
- see this The Hill report

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