FCC Chair: Video Streaming That Doesn’t Count Against Your Data Caps Is “Innovative” And “Highly Competitive”

The FCC’s Open Internet Rule — net neutrality — has been in effect for months now, but that doesn’t mean every question about the ins and outs of who can do what with their network is settled. Far from it, in fact. Some questions, like zero rating, have been hanging out there unresolved all this time. Except now they’re a bit more resolved, and it seems to be totally okay for the time being.

As data caps have proliferated in both the mobile and home broadband spaces, more and more providers exempt some set of services from those data caps. Those services then, of course, are more likely to become cost-conscious consumers’ go-to apps, perhaps to the exclusion of newer competitors that can’t yet afford or negotiate some kind of exemption contract. That’s zero-rating in a nutshell. And according to remarks by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, it’s a pretty good idea.

Whether or not zero-rating is kosher under the open internet rule has been a big fat question mark during the entire net neutrality process, but that hasn’t stopped companies from increasing the offerings. T-Mobile, for example, just launched its Binge On plan, offering subscribers “optimized” versions of more than 20 streaming services that won’t count against their data plans. And Comcast just confirmed that their pilot streaming-only program, Stream, will also be exempt from their data caps.

The commission has opened its process to consider whether they should consider data caps when they report on Americans’ broadband access in the future, but that decision and any future reports that result from it are months if not years away. However, when Wheeler was asked directly about it in a press conference after this month’s regular FCC open meeting, he said he saw a lot of good in it.

“It is clear in the Open Internet order that we are pro-competition and pro-innovation,” said Wheeler, “and clearly, this meets both of those criteria. It is highly innovative and highly competitive.”

Wheeler also added that although he sees no conflict between Binge On and the rule against paid prioritization, that the commission will still be keeping an eye on the situation. Providers “should not unreasonably interfere with the access to someone who is trying to get to an edge provider and an edge provider who is trying to get to a consumer,” Wheeler said. “So, what we are going to be doing is watching Binge On, keeping and eye on it, and measure it against the general conduct rule.”

Opponents of net neutrality — including FCC commissioner Ajit Pai — pointed to Wheeler’s statement as one reason the rule is too vague and unsettled to be good for business… despite the fact that businesses like T-Mobile, at least, seem to be doing just fine with offering products and services they believe consumers want.

The fight over net neutrality will get louder again after Thanksgiving, as the legal fight between ISPs and the FCC will have its day in court on December 4.

Wheeler: Binge On Is Pro-Competitive, Pro-Innovation [Multichannel News]

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