For years, Verizon
and the other telcos have imposed limits on supposedly "Unlimited" data plans and justified those limits with dubious appeals to network quality of service. While throttling data usage makes a great deal of sense in certain contexts (downtown rush hour being an excellent example), most companies don't throttle based on time of day or local conditions. Verizon's latest attempt to slice off a bit more profit for itself may have been a bridge too far, however, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has gotten involved with investigating the company's practices.
As we covered earlier this week
, Verizon recently announced that it would "extend its network optimization policy to the data users who: fall within the top 5 percent of data users on our network, have fulfilled their minimum contractual commitment, and are on unlimited plans using a 4G LTE device."
The problem Wheeler has with those qualifications is that none of them relate to the question of network congestion or ensuring a high quality of service for Verizon customers. Instead, they selectively target a group of people who have refused to move to the much more expensive "Share Everything" plans that Verizon prefers for bilking money out of its customers.
Wheeler's letter notes that while the FCC recognizes network management as a logical act for any telco,
Reasonable network management concerns the technical management of your network; it is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams. It is disturbing to me that Verizon Wireless would base its "network management" on distinctions among its customers' data plans, rather than on network architecture or technology.
The letter then goes on to demand an explanation for the behavior, including a description of why heavy users on paid data plans won't be throttled, while heavy users on unlimited data plans will be. Wheeler wants an explanation for why these limits apply only to consumers on 4G LTE when the 3G network is much less efficient, and why Verizon feels it can justify these behaviors given that the terms of its 700MHz spectrum purchase forbid it from denying, limiting, or restricting the ability of end users to download and utilize applications of their choice. This last may be dodged (Verizon will argue that it's not a restriction if it throttles a user's entire device, but it's the closest we've seen Wheeler come to bringing down the hammer on bad practices.
In response, Verizon told Ars Technica
that " The purpose is to ensure there is capacity for everyone in those limited circumstances, and that high users don't limit capacity for others."
Except that's obviously not true. If the purpose of throttling was to ensure that capacity was available for all, then the throttling would be applied to every user equally. The purpose of Verizon's plan is to shove people towards metered data regardless of whether or not such plans suit their needs.