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MetroPCS accused of blocking certain Net content

In a complaint to the FCC, public interest groups accuse the carrier of blocking services like Skype and Netflix under certain data plans and violating recently approved Net neutrality rules.

MetroPCS is violating the FCC's recently approved Net neutrality rules by blocking certain Internet content, say several public interest groups.

A letter (PDF) sent Monday to the Federal Communications Commission from Free Press, Center for Media Justice, Media Access Project, New America Foundation Open Technology Institute, and accuse the wireless carrier of playing fast and loose with Net neutrality by apparently blocking services such as Skype and Netflix under certain lower-cost data plans.

MetroPCS is offering a new 4G plan that promises unlimited talk, text, Web browsing, and YouTube access for $40 a month. But another category known as "Additional Data Access" is not available with the $40 plan and provides unlimited access only with the $60 plan. Though the MetroPCS Web site doesn't spell out what "additional data access" means, the letter to the FCC cites statements from the carrier indicating that it would include services such as Skype and Netflix.

By restricting access to certain services under the lower-cost plan, the groups contend that MetroPCs is deciding on its own which Internet services and content are important. As a result, they say, these types of restrictions will create a "walled garden" that will put services such as Skype and Netflix at a "competitive disadvantage" and restrict consumer choice.

In their letter, the groups urge the FCC to investigate whether the carrier's data plans discriminate against certain Internet content and applications.

"By selectively blocking or capping the use of some Internet content, web sites, applications, and services, MetroPCS appears to be in violation of the Commission's recently adopted open Internet rules," the groups said in their letter. "Although these rules have not yet taken effect, the Commission must not use this as an excuse to ignore or delay action on MetroPCS's harmful practices. The Commission must act immediately to provide guidance to a growing industry and to help ensure that its recently adopted rules are not being immediately violated on the first day they take effect."

In response to the complaints from the groups, MetroPCS e-mailed CNET the following statement, attributed to Roger Linquist, the company's chief executive officer:

"The recent complaints about our new, pro consumer, pro competitive 4G LTE rate plans are erroneous. We continue to offer consumers a full service, unlimited data plan. We increased consumer choice by adding two new rate plans that are less expensive and enable consumers to select the service and content they want at a price point they can afford. These new rate plans comply with the FCC's new rules on mobile open Internet."

Pushed through last month, the FCCs new Net Neutrality rules address the issue of access to services like Skype via mobile carriers. But one question will be whether MetroPCS is actually violating the rules because it does offer access to such services, albeit through a more costly plan.