(adds T-Mobile comments)
By Alina Selyukh and Marina Lopes
WASHINGTON Aug 8 The top U.S. communications
regulator on Friday said he is asking all large U.S. wireless
carriers to explain how they decide when to slow download speeds
for some customers, after questioning Verizon Wireless about
such a plan.
Verizon, the biggest U.S. carrier, said last month that the
top 5 percent of high-speed data users on its older unlimited
data plans might experience slower speeds starting in October.
In a letter to Verizon, Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Tom Wheeler said he was "deeply troubled" by the plan
and expressed concern the decision to slow data was based on
consumers' plans instead of network needs.
Verizon defended the practice as a narrow, lawful and
"widely accepted" way to manage networks and said all its
competitors also relied on throttling of top data users to
optimize congested networks.
But Wheeler on Friday indicated he was not convinced.
"'All the kids do it' was never something that worked for me
when I was growing up," he told reporters.
"My concern in this instance - and it's not just with
Verizon, by the way, we've written to all the carriers - is that
it (network management) is moving from a technology and
engineering issue to the business issues ... such as choosing
between different subscribers based on your economic
relationship with them."
AT&T Inc representatives did not immediately comment. A
Sprint Corp spokeswoman said her company "goes to great lengths
to be transparent about its network management practices," and
will respond to Wheeler's letter as appropriate.
"Our network practices are consistent with the Commission's
rules on the open Internet, are innovative and are good for
consumers and competition," a T-Mobile US spokeswoman said.
Wheeler wrote those three carriers after receiving Verizon's
response, an FCC official said. Verizon was the first under the
spotlight because it was the only one to announce a policy
Wheeler is trying to establish himself as a strong defender
of consumers and somebody who will punish Internet providers
whose business practices run afoul of consumers' interests.
The FCC is weighing whether to set stricter rules for
wireless networks to restrict discrimination or blocking of
Internet content as part of new "net neutrality" rules that
guide how broadband providers manage Internet traffic.
Sprint and T-Mobile continue to offer unlimited-data plans,
but both Verizon and AT&T have discontinued them as all carriers
try to shift their data-hungry subscribers onto tiered pricing
plans that charge customers for specific amounts of data.
The FCC did not disclose the new letters, but the agency
official said other carriers faced questions about their network
management policies and practices that were similar to those
faced by Verizon.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Marina Lopes; Editing by Leslie
Adler and Paul Simao)