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February 10, 2016

FCC Chairman on Verizon’s Defense: “All the Kids Do It” Didn’t Work With My Kids

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler says part of Verizon Wireless’ argument  in response to his concerns about its plan to slow down speeds for some high-volume data users wasn’t sufficient.

“All the kids do it was never something that worked with me when I was growing up, and it didn’t work with my kids,” he told reporters on Friday.

The company last month announced that certain customers — people whose contracts have expired, are on unlimited plans on 4G LTE devices and are in the top 5 percent of data users —  may start seeing slower data speeds when connecting to heavily used cell sites .

Wheeler sent a letter to Verizon Wireless President  Daniel S. Mead last month saying he was “deeply troubled by your July 25, 2014, announcement that Verizon Wireless intends to slow down some customers’ data speeds on your 4G LTE network starting in October 20 14.”

‘”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,” he wrote.

In response to Wheeler, Kathleen Grillo, Verizon’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs, wrote that its “network optimization practice”  was narrow and would manage the network’s limited resources so that customers are best served.

She also contended that other companies engage in similar practices :

It is similar to, though in some cases more targeted than, network management practices commonly used throughout the industry. And it closely tracks the type of tailored network management practices that the Commission has endorsed as reasonable. In short, this practice has been widely accepted with little or no controversy.

On Friday, Wheeler appeared to rebuff the suggestion that Verizon could justify its specific actions by pointing to other companies. “I think what we have to be careful about is an attempt to re-frame the issue around this fact that, well, everybody does something to manage their… network,” he said.

Among the issues was how to define “reasonable network management,” Wheeler said, noting that the concern wasn’t limited to Verizon:

Reasonable network management is a technology determination. It’s an engineering determination. My concern in this instance — and it’s not just with Verizon by the way, we’ve written to all the carriers — but my concern in this instance is that it is moving from technology and engineering issues into business issues. Business issues such as choosing between different subscribers based on your economic relationship with them.

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