Reactions to FCC Zero-Rating Report

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Republican leadership criticized while some Democratic lawmakers were praising the Federal Communications Commission's report finding that some zero-rating plans may run afoul of network neutrality rules. Zero-rating offerings exempt some services, including video streaming services, from counting toward a user's broadband data plan. In some cases, the service pays the ISP to exempt their content.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said, "We are disappointed to see the FCC moving controversial items like the recent staff report on zero-rating in the waning hours of Chairman Wheeler’s tenure. Chairman Wheeler’s decision to move forward with this report is a rare trifecta of anti-consumer policy, inappropriate use of delegated authority, and directly contradicting a request of Congress. Ultimately, if taken at face-value the findings in the report threaten to reduce consumer choice and drive up monthly bills. Our regulatory agencies should aim to foster innovation and competitive service offerings that benefit consumers, not squelch innovative business plans in their infancy. We remain hopeful that the agency will refrain from taking action on controversial items in the remaining days of this administration, and we’re looking forward to working with the next commission to encourage robust technological innovation for consumers across the country.”

Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) had led calls for tough action on "harmful zero-rating offerings" they thought ran afoul of the rules and led the applause at the findings. “In response to our inquiry, the FCC has issued clear guidelines on how to protect consumers from harmful zero-rating plans that violate the core tenants of net neutrality,” Sen Markey said. “These guiding principles will help the FCC, industry, and the public evaluate zero-rating offerings and identify plans that distort competition, stifle innovation, and hamper user choice and free speech. I will continue to work with my colleagues to encourage the Commission to enforce these guidelines and ensure that the internet remains a permission-less environment where anyone with an idea or voice can participate.”

Sen Al Franken (D-MN), a big network neutrality fan and among those who joined in a letter to the FCC last November asking for the review, did share the FCC's concerns. "A free and open internet has been a crucial engine for innovation and economic growth," he said. "That's why I'm pleased to see that the FCC has heeded our call and released a framework for evaluating zero-rating plans, which can often harm competitors and consumers. This report evaluating whether zero rating plans violate net neutrality will help make sure the internet remains the free and open platform that it's always been. Keeping the internet open is critical to our democracy.”

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), were also signatories to the letter and added their applause.

“Despite clever branding gimmicks, so called ‘free data’ or zero-rating plans like those offered by AT&T and Verizon are a scheme to manipulate consumers and transfer money from their pockets to a company’s bottom line,” said Wyden. “This report lays the framework for ensuring zero-rating plans don’t betray net neutrality and is a step in the right direction towards maintaining a free and open internet.”

“I commend the Commission for undertaking this careful and thorough report on how zero-rating offerings may negatively affect consumers and competition,” added Blumenthal. “As wireless carriers look for creative ways to differentiate themselves, it would serve them well to take heed of this report’s findings and address any red flags in their own offerings. This report confirms my concerns that some zero-rating offerings not only subvert the spirit of net neutrality, but also unfairly distort competition, disadvantage consumers, and decrease choice.”

“Consumers have repeatedly expressed their support for free data. The so-called ‘guidance’ issued today by the staff of the Wireless Bureau is not about consumers," said Mobile Future interim chair Diane Smith. "It is an effort to pick winners and losers based on the Washington-knows-best mentality. Rather than tipping the scales toward preferred business models, the FCC should let consumers decide for themselves which models, and free data, they prefer.”

"Let’s hope the next FCC recognizes the benefit of genuinely new business models bringing additional competition in video distribution," said ITIF policy analyst Doug Brake. "We should not discourage models that by any measure increase the options to access Internet services, functionally increase video competition, and lower expenses for consumers."

Adonis Hoffman, chairman of Business in the Public Interest and a former top FCC official, said the FCC advisory was confusing. "If the open internet order is all about competition, and consumers like the competitive data offerings by the two leading providers, what is the problem? While the original intent of the open internet rule may have been noble, its enforcement in this case is anything but. Sadly, this may become the Chairman's Dunkirk."

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