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Wednesday
Jan262011

MetroPCS Joins Verizon in Suing FCC Over Net Neutrality Rules

Carrier’s Tiered Data Plans Under Fire Due to Content Blocking

In the wake of the FCC’s December adoption of Net Neutrality rules, which prevent Internet service providers from blocking consumer access to certain content or web sites, MetroPCS apparently took advantage of the order’s relatively loose language to institute tiered data pricing plans--plans that appear to do just that.

Public interest groups responded quickly, claiming the company’s plans, which block access to video streaming web sites—apart from Youtube—at the lowest level, are a clear violation of the new rules.  MetroPCS’ plans also stop subscribers from accessing Internet-based voice calling services (think Skype) at all price levels.

Now, the company has joined Verizon in protesting the Commission’s authority to regulate the Internet.  The company filed suit yesterday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and in a statement, MetroPCS ceo Roger Linquist reportedly said the company has concerns about the "jurisdictional basis" for the Net Neutrality rules, as well as recent consumer challenges to its rate plans.

The Net Neutrality rules prohibit mobile carriers from blocking access to websites or “blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.”  And therein lies the trouble.

According to a report in Wired, Art Brodsky, the communications chief for the pro-Net Neutrality group Public Knowledge said, “The FCC rules are so vague and vaporous that it’s unclear…Under normal conditions, we’d start screaming this is a violation of net neutrality.”

VoIP calls are explicitly blocked in MetroPCS’ terms of service as an application that causes too much stress on its network. The company also claims the right to block users from dialing certain phone numbers, at its discretion, even though common carrier rules, the cousin of net neutrality rules that apply to the phone system, require phone companies to connect all calls.

The FCC’s rules, and its ability to enforce them and assert jurisdiction may well not hold up, but ultimately, should Congress pass similar legislation—as Verizon is suggesting should be done—we don’t think that MetroPCS’ price plans would hold up.  But the company’s effort to monitor usage this way, just a few months after it launched its first LTE market, says something about the concerns it has about current or future traffic loads on its network.

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