Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation say they've sent the FCC a letter
urging them to investigate AT&T's new usage caps. AT&T this week imposed a new 150 GB cap on DSL users and a 250 GB cap on U-Verse users
, with those exceeding those caps paying AT&T $10 per every 50 GB thereafter. While many companies now impose caps to help differentiate residential and business class services, AT&T is the first major U.S. ISP to begin charging users per byte overages -- a practice that is very common in Canada, but extremely unpopular among consumers across North America.
"While broadband caps are not inherently problematic, they carry the omnipresent temptation to act in anticompetitive and monopolistic ways," notes the letter. "Unlike competitors whose caps appear to be at least nominally linked to congestions during peak-use periods, AT&T seeks to convert caps into a profit center by charging additional fees to customers who exceed the cap," the groups insist. "In addition to concerns raised by broadband caps generally, such a practice produces a perverse incentive for AT&T to avoid raising its cap even as its own capacity expands."
Noting that "ISPs use network congestion as a pretext to act on other motives," both groups have urged the FCC to collect "no less than quarterly" anonymized reports from ISPs highlighting how caps are set, how often they're enforced, and what the average penalty per user is.
We've cited time
and time again
how North American ISPs are so eager to impose this new pricing, they can't be bothered to ensure their meters work properly, and there's no regulatory oversight of these limits, leaving consumers with little recourse when these meters prove to be inaccurate. Carriers have consistently stated they'd love to bill bandwidth as if it were electricity (despite being a vastly different commodity
from electricity), yet they've lobbied fiercely to ensure they're not regulated like utilities.
We've also noted that despite AT&T claims that these caps are necessary for financial and congestion reasons, the move is solely about protecting U-Verse TV revenues and cashing in on Internet video
. AT&T has tried to sell these caps as some kind of bizarre bandwidth altruism, but the reality of AT&T's move is stark and not really open to debate: AT&T's new pricing is a rate hike for already expensive broadband service --delivered over inadequate infrastructure.
The FCC does have a consumer protection role to play here in either requiring AT&T prove these caps are necessary with hard data (which AT&T hasn't yet done and won't be able to do), and/or to ensure the meters work effectively. Yet despite the fact the agency has immense leverage right now due to AT&T's desire to see the T-Mobile deal approved, consumers shouldn't expect any serious help from the current FCC.
The agency has shown repeatedly that not only are they unwilling to stand up to AT&T on any serious issue, they're unwilling to address predatory pricing, whether it comes in the form of unnecessary overages, or punitive hidden below the line fees used to convertly jack up the advertised price
. The FCC's decision to not address competition with their national broadband plan is also coming home to roost here, given the limited competition in the U.S. broadband market is what allowed AT&T to impose this unnecessary rate hike in the first place.