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FCC drops all inquiries into Binge On and other zero-rating programs

As the FCC moves into a new era that, under new Chairman Ajit Pai, looks to cut down on regulations that purportedly impede innovation, it has reported that all inquires into sponsored data programs will be stopped.

Under Tom Wheeler, who former President Barack Obama appointed Chairman in 2013, the FCC began sending letters to the top U.S. network providers, including T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon, on their use of "sponsored data programs" that either allowed companies to pay for the right to forgive the cost of certain blocks of traffic, or "zero-rate" traffic from an entire website or app.

T-Mobile has made this the most consumer-facing with its Binge On promotion, which under its new T-Mobile One plan doesn't count any video from most sources, including YouTube, towards one's monthly allotment. That video, however, is streamed at a lower bitrate than it otherwise would be, and preferences large media companies that have the power to negotiate deals with T-Mobile and its competition.

In a letter sent to the companies above, and a statement posted on its website, the FCC makes its intentions under this administration very clear:

Today, the Commission finally puts an end to the past Commission's zero-rating inquiries and recommits to permissionless innovation. While this is just a first step, these companies, and others, can now safely invest in and introduce highly popular products and services without fear of Commission intervention based on newly invented legal theories.

That it "recommits to permissionless innovation" is a good thing for consumers in its eye, but the language around "just a first step" implies that under Pai, the FCC will dismantle Title II and the net neutrality clauses that are held within it.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

84 Comments
  • Yup, time for consumer protection to go in the bin and the interests of big business to be put first. Sad times in the US.
  • Which "consumer protections" are you losing because of this? Or are you just parroting talking points you read on Huffington Post or Salon?
  • Perform a thought experiment and see if you can answer the question for yourself. You don't have to agree with the answer, but see if you can figure out what might be troubling to someone that cares about such things.
  • Well aren't you a silly goose.
  • Well this is the death of a fair and free internet thanks Trump supporters
  • You think Hillary would have done different?... BWAHAHAHA The top Comcast lobbyist hosted her a fund raiser. The only difference is she would have screwed us quietly and it would have not made news.
  • Yes, she would have appointed someone to chair the FCC who wouldn't dismantle net neutrality.
    Any other stupid comments you wish to make?
  • No it's not. The government tried to squash competition. Besides net neutrality was created to fix a problem that did not exist.
  • Net Neutrality is government regulation of the internet. More freedom and less regulation is better for the consumer. Prices go down. Let the free market work for once.
  • Because it's worked so well with ISP choice. Yeah. Sure. OK.
  • Who told you that ISPs were in any way part of a free market? With all the regulations around spectrum, don't kid yourself. And the crowd shouting "free market!" needs to understand that these companies want nothing of the kind. It's regulation that ensures their monopolies (or duopolies, or any opolies, as the case may be) and the greed-based stranglehold they have on the hostage market. Regulation is the problem, but it's not as simple as your average Republican thinks it is - look further and you'll see that it's less the "business unfriendly" regs, and much more the regs that indirectly (sometimes even directly - those bold-faced bast*rds) favor one business over another. Pokegate: 07/14/16 - Never Forget...
  • No one told me anything. I worked in telecom for 13 years. But thanks for mansplaining how our over regulation instead of lobbying is the issue. Cheers!
  • Interesting world, one where lobbying doesn't mean government intrusion. After all, the lobbyists don't lobby government officials. They lobby ghosts. And then somehow government finds out about it and acts.
  • And I've worked for the government for 17 years. Our work experience doesn't make either one of us experts, just people with informed opinions. Over-regulation is the result of the lobbying. Yeah, lobbying is a problem, but not as big a problem as the politicians who perpetuate it by rewarding their benefactors with business-friendly over-regulation. Mansplain? I'm not even sure what that's supposed to mean. Is it a sexist remark? Pokegate: 07/14/16 - Never Forget...
  • The big difference is which lobbyist get in the door and listened to and get to overly influence those who should be making the decisions. For the last 8 years the liberals got 100% access and now they are upset because the doors are closed to them. This happens every time there is a major change. The pro business groups got shut out 8 years ago when Obama too over. Policies change as the results of elections.
  • It may feel better for the consumer initially, but it ultimately establishes a "pay to play" model, which caters to the big established companies and doesn't allow new (often small) innovative companies to even get involved. So eventually you're just stuck with the same old same old at ever increasing prices.
  • In the real world, the opposite is true. With no regulation, say that, for example, Netflix offered a billion dollars to every ISP to throttle competitors so that Netflix was in HD and every other service was in SD. What chance would there be for a competitor to become the dominant player? Zero. What pressure would there be on Netflix to lower their prices? Zero. In fact, they would soon be raising their prices. Capitalism works well but only when there is regulation to level the playing field. This decision by the FCC will be bad for innovation because there is less chance that a smaller competitor will be able to compete with the established players.
  • Except, it was a free market and net neutrality didn't change that. No market is totally free and no sane person wants it to be. Monopolies are what free markets breed, and they are terrible for consumers. Net neutrality is a regulation that encourages smaller companies (innovative companies) to produce content. By forcing all companies to be fair to others.
  • Net neutrality by definition is anti-competitive. If everyone is the same there is no competition.
  • I would rather have net neutrality than a monopoly or price fixing. Net neutrality is better for consumers.
  • Sure, anti-competitive in it forces competition based on merit and content not on current reserve funds.
  • Being treated the same for bandwidth doesn't guarantee identical behavior in other actions. Nice try.
  • The free market (in this case) means only voices that have the most money will be heard. While being able to watch certain videos without getting charged extra for going over a data cap sounds good for the consumer, this business model means that companies willing to pay more can entice service providers to grant them more favors. Would you like it if Google was willing to pay enough for T-Mobile to throttle all video streams that don't come from YouTube? Because this invites them to try it.
  • Not to mention the walled gardens that we'll soon find everywhere. Now you'll have to choose your provider according to stuff you want to see or listen to. And this won't be free. Companies will be forced to pay for access and then they will just charge it back to us.
  • Jerry, I think AC needs to put together another article about net neutrality and why it's necessary. It looks like there are a handful of people who still don't understand or don't want to understand how it will negatively affect them to lose net neutrality.
  • Daniel and I have talked about doing something. He has some great ideas (par for the course, dude's a goddamn genius) and is concerned about where we are heading when we follow this path,
  • +1000
  • Let's not kid ourselves. Eric Scmidt had Obama's ear since before he was elected. The liberal tech heads have been driving policy for quite some time.
  • ISP choice isn't even slightly free market since the FCC restricts companies from entering new markets. Also can we quit acting like pay to play between companies is the worst thing ever? As we have clearly seen through T-mobile, consumers have greatly benefited by having zero rated data and services. Consumers also made their voice heard on certain services that were originally excluded and T-mobile added them.
  • That's because T-Mobile has competition. Imagine if your ISP says their services are free data, others are charged full data, and any competing products are double data, and your capped at 500GB?
  • Lol at the free market.
  • The sky is falling, the sky is falling!
  • Good
  • Wrong
  • Zero rating means that anyone that tries to compete in this market is at a loss simply because the giants can buy their way into a better flow. Basically if I try to make a music streaming app myself, I now have an additional hurdle, that people will choose bigger ones over me because they don't affect a bandwidth cap. That's unfair. It means T-Mobile has the power to sway the market the way they want.
  • I wash my hands of all of this. People are correct when they say that completely free markets breed monopolies. Monopolies are almost always bad for consumers in the end. Where would we be today without the laws that forced AT&T to allow phones from other manufacturers?
  • The only reason zero-rating is even a thing is because of the reliance on data caps. Take the data caps away and zero-rating becomes redundant.
  • this is true. A flat rate and open faucet on the data pipe make all this go away. But then 4 US companies won't make billions in profit even when they have a "bad" year.
  • Curious, who imposes the flat rate? I hope you mean the corporations. I am also glad the big four are making billions. I don't know, maybe so they can invest in their networks and infrastructure, employ thousands of people. We have come a long way in the last ten, fifteen years coverage wise. Basically all have access to being wired one way or another. This bashing of corporations is old and tired.
  • AFTER expenditures. That's what profit means. You might be OK with paying more and getting nothing extra while a CEO cuts himself a 7 figure bonus check because he was able to get us to do it, but I'm not. I also won't get froggy on a comment thread about you being cool with it, either.
  • This. With the billions in profit they make, they can fund a lot of R&D into things that would ultimately benefit consumers like fixing coverage black holes, expanding network capacity to deal with more concurrent users or more/better testing facilities to speed up the testing process of Android updates. But no. They just sit on the $$$.
  • Wow, keep telling yourself all that. You make getting away with what they do SO easy. Naivete at its finest.
  • Your view sounds great on the surface, but you're operating in a vacuum and refusing to look at the actual history of the topic. Even just a quick comparison to other telecom infrastructures around the world immediately reveals how archaic and pathetic the Telecommunications industry in the US is.
    While large carriers like to parrot their supposedly gigantic investments into research and development, this is a lie. These companies have a pedigree of culling massive profits from an ignorant customer base and "laughing their way to the bank."
    When the industry changed and the Telecom giants were forced to start supporting high speed data transfer and wireless communications, they chafed and complained about their supposedly enormous profit losses (mind that they were still some of the most profitable companies in the market, just slightly less so than if the status quo hadn't changed).
    The history of Telecommunications big business is nothing short of a disgusting display of greed.
    Consider the history before you rush to the defense of the most deplorable business practices any market has ever seen.
  • While I agree this would be better, say goodbye to your fast speeds and reliable connection. People will always abuse unlimited plans and stream video 24/7
  • Speed and reliability go down when network infrastructure isn't maintained properly or upgraded to meet demand. Has nothing to do with people streaming video 24/7.
  • Excellent.
  • What is excellent? I notice a few people here more than others, and I like the way you think about most things, even when we don't think that same. Curious what side of this issue you're on and why. Honest curiosity that wants to hear your reasoning, not anything remotely assholish.
  • True. Thoughtful, civil disagreement is a rare gift on the internet.
  • I don't think you understand what net Neutrality did for consumers!
  • Yeah I wish we had more unlimited internet choices rather than just T-Mobile and Sprint. I don't count AT&T unlimited since you have to buy direcTV
  • The end of consumer protection. Thanks for nothin' Donald.
  • The zero rate was a good use if it's all inclusive, and should have been forgiven, but treating all traffic with total neutrality is necessary, if they dismantle it I'll fight them tooth and nail.
  • Great. I can't wait to pay Verizon 25 cents to read each Android Central article in the future. That's the direction we're headed with President Dumbass in charge.
  • Just wait until att U-verse , Time Warner Cable (spectrum/charter) and Comcast charge a base of $50 for Internet oh you want to access facebook $5 please oh wait you want to access streaming services $35 (Netflix,Hulu etc) please. oh you want to play YouTube video at 1080p $10 please oh you want access to 4k video $20 please. without net neutrality this is a real possibility.
  • They will put credit card swipers on their modems in order for you to access additional webpages.
  • Weird, that my comment which I wouldn't even consider controversial was deleted - since some of the ones I see were allowed on here are more so - but there's always a first time for everything, I guess...
  • Media, they are like the liberal media. Have a different opinion and it gets removed.
  • It might have just tripped some goofy filter if there was nothing in it that was a cause for deletion. Say it again and we'll find out
  • It was a response to someone saying the former president was responsible for these issues. I asked a rhetorical question to point out he didn't appoint the new FCC chairman...
  • How does the binge-on program anything but bad? It's free to join, you just have to set up your app to play nice.
  • I feel the need to clarify some information presented in the article: There is no zero rating happening with T-Mobile One; T-Mobile One isn't subject to throttling and thus there is no high speed data allotment. Any and all usage, including video streaming from any provider, is counted for purposes of network management (ie top 3% of highest data users deprioritized during congestion). There's been a ton of confusion about this since T-Mobile transitioned to the One plan being their only non-grandfathered postpaid plan. Zero rating only comes into play if you're on a plan with a finite amount of high speed data (only applies to customers that activated service prior to 1/22/17).
  • Good point.
  • What this country needs is an unlimited supply of DDoS attacks.
    It will be beautiful to see zero-rating, capped data providers start charging $200 a Gigabyte for data.
    It will also be beautiful to see the faces of the people who voted for their own demise when they realize they screwed themselves.
  • Unfortunately, I think that's the only way to get people to want what's in their best interests instead of a company's best interests. A company only does what is best for itself. No matter what it says, nothing that hurts its income is ever going to be done willingly. People just don't seem to get that.
  • Trump, his cabinet picks and his supporters are nothing ut traitors to the country and need to be treated as such.
  • What is wrong? Do you think Clinton would do different than Trump? I think not. Trump is the new sheriff in town. He's changing our gooberment we currently have into a actual government.
  • true.he is cutting the "middle man", so the big business can have a clear path to Absolute Power and legally savage whatever and whenever they please.
    Great Times ! wish , I could sit and watch this from some safe distance (some inhabitable planet) so I can have good laugh, but I can't. I'm stuck in this place, where human parasites are about to kill it's host and not realizing they can't live without it. not much optimism to find while being forced to take part in collective suicide. I just gotta find peace with it, somehow. maybe Sky God comes to rescue .
  • A liberal referring to human parasites in a negative manner is freaking hilarious. LMAO.
  • Whatever happened to "Love trumps hate"?
  • Misquote, it's Trump Loves Hate
  • As a matter of fact, it would be different under Clinton. She would have appointed a different FCC chair so none of this would be brought up. You think trump is making a working government? That, my friend, is the best joke I've heard all day.
  • ...Can't we all just get along ..../s
  • Depends. I only get along with people Monday through Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are my days to be ignorant! Stay thirsty my friend, stay thirsty!
  • cutting regulations is a good thing.
  • Normally I'd agree, but in this case I think giving free reign to the biggest for-profit monopolies sounds worse. Look at some of the things they were planning before they had to abide by net neutrality.
  • all those who believe that innovation comes from the free market and a few big businesses running the show, should look into how long (and why) it took US to adopt Tesla's AC. Uneducated, ignorant or not interested to divest - both Edison and J P Morgan fought fiercely against it.
    everyone in power will fight to preserve its dominant position, regardless of benefits for environment and society. only when the investments are finally exhausted they would make a move. now, fossil fuel industry is the dinosaur, telling us - "renewables are not realistic". Tesla won back then and reason and science will win again. this time around , people have to act faster , because they are literally killing us
  • for all the "Techies" out there , there is a great book to read -the most extensive Tesla's biography to date
    "Wizard:The life and times of Nikola Tesla" by Marc Seifer
  • So what you're saying is that the free market takes time? Because the US DID adopt alternating current. The same way the US adopted VHS over Beta, Blu-Ray over HD DVD, and thousands of other standards THROUGH THE FREE MARKET. Please don't confuse time with not getting a standard. You bring up solar energy versus fossil fuels and until VERY recently photovoltaic was far too cost prohibitive for the average consumer to use them. Innovative capitalists like Elon Musk have used the leverage of the free market to propel solar energy and electric cars to great effect. Monopoly is the bad guy, whether that monopoly is one business OR the government. A competitive marketplace IS the answer. Unfortunately ISPs are largely monopolistic or duopolistic in most markets. Net neutrality was a bad idea from the beginning because the government, by virtue of its organization, CANNOT keep up with innovation. For crying out loud, the Microsoft anti-trust case took ten years to settle. By the time it went to court, they were arguing for versions of Windows which were so outdated that only government workers were using it. The world was a better place AFTER AT&T was broken up. Monopoly is the problem. That T-Mobile can zero rate bandwidth IS a consumer win. If a smaller player has to innovate more to get more market share means things get better. The big players in this space (Netflix, Amazon, Google/YouTube, Hulu, Vudu/Wal-mart, Sling, Sony) ARE competing, so if any of them try to monopolize the broadcast stream, they will be met with competitors to keep them in check. That smaller businesses will have to try harder to compete is NOT A BAD THING. Elon Musk is competing with every gas station in existence and seems to be doing pretty darn well. We don't want the playing field to be level. We want innovators to understand the hurdles and WORK AROUND THEM. As long as there is good competition (and there is for streaming video), the market will control for this. Monopolisitic ISPs is the problem. That T-Mobile is innovating and truly shaking up the mobile market is a good thing.
  • sorry, the model of "competition" you are referring to is obsolete and dangerous when it comes to energy and environment. we don't have the time to wait for "the markets" to embrace renewable technology. water basins are destroyed by oil and coal, air ... making us sick or killing daily. not to mention the climate change.
    some things can not be left in the hands of those who can profit from it.
  • Apparently we can wait. Ideal solutions don't exist. If, for example, car safety was our top priority, we'd all drive tanks provided by the government. We live in an imperfect world of compromise.
  • And the FCC is yanking the program to subsidize Internet service for low income users. That should make it much easier for that demographic to pay bills and search for job oh and to take online classes. Just what it needs. /s So what is the point of the FCC now anyway? Cocktail parties with big telcos?
  • Trump's personal media bashers?
  • But he LOVES the media /s
  • I'm not sure what the issue is. Seems like to me the FCC is saving us money by not getting involved. If you don't want to use the Binge On service, turn it off. If you don't like T-Mobile, switch carriers. Seems like free market to me. I'm for one, excited what T-Mobile has forced Verizon to do. I'm not longer paying for phones that I paid for months/years ago. I now have the ability to still get 2G speeds when I run out of data. All of these would not be possible if T-Mobile hadn't done what they are doing.