FCC chairman rejects Verizon's throttling defense

The wireless carrier's argument that "all the kids do it" isn't good enough, the official says in a press conference.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

Verizon's justification that it should be able to slow down its most active unlimited data customers doesn't fly with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"'All the kids do it' is something that never worked with me when I was growing up, and it didn't work my kids," Wheeler said, a reference to Verizon's argument that its policy was consistent with the other wireless carriers.

The Washington Post previously reported on the comments. CNET confirmed them with the FCC.

Wheeler's response Friday is the latest in a back-and-forth debate sparked by Verizon's decision in late July to extend its policy of slowing down the top 5 percent of unlimited 3G data customers to 4G customers -- a practice some refer to as throttling. Wheeler sent a letter to the carrier saying he was "disturbed" by the policy change, eliciting a written response from Verizon defending the practice.

"We were very surprised to receive that letter," Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said to reporters on Monday. "There were many parts that were incorrect. We have great respect for the FCC, but I'm not sure the chairman understood what we're doing exactly."

Mead emphasized that the FCC seemed fine with how Verizon managed its network when the policy was first put in place for 3G users in 2011. He questioned why the agency would have a problem with the policy now as Verizon expands it to include 4G LTE customers later this year.

Verizon responded to the FCC in a letter that claimed the policy change was consistent other carriers and the 2010 Open Internet Order.

But Wheeler said he didn't buy the argument. The FCC said Wheeler sent similar letters to the other three national carriers -- AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile -- asking about their own policies.

Verizon declined to respond to Wheeler's latest comments.

Verizon has argued that it doesn't "throttle" its customers because even if it slows down a connection, it is for a temporary period to help alleviate a specific bandwidth problem. That differs from the policy that a company like T-Mobile has, which will slow down the connection of a customer once they hit their allotted amount of data.

"The difference between our Network Optimization practices and throttling is network intelligence," Verizon said in a blog post.

The change doesn't go into effect until October.

Critics see it as a way to force Verizon's unlimited data customers off of their existing plans and toward a tiered shared data plan that a majority of its subscribers sign up for. Under such a plan, a customer who goes over the allotted data gets charged an overage fee.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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