Wyden Pledges Action on Zero Rating if FCC Doesn’t Step In

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Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has the “full intention of zealously pursuing” legislation to prevent broadband providers from introducing new sponsored data offerings if the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t get to it first, he said in a Nov. 1 letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

When the FCC passed its net neutrality rules in 2015, it declined to ban zero rating, the practice of exempting certain data from counting against a broadband plan’s data caps. The agency said it would review zero rating on a case-by-case basis. With its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc. looming, AT&T Inc. already has plans to zero-rate streaming video under DirecTV’s online video offerings, Wyden noted in his letter. If the company succeeds in buying Time Warner, Wyden said, he’s concerned it will start zero-rating all content from Time Warner networks like HBO, possibly pushing consumers to watch Time Warner-owned content instead of competing programming.

Wyden didn’t ask Wheeler to block the deal, nor did he ask for specific conditions on it should regulators allow it to proceed. But he said if the FCC doesn’t take some kind of action on zero rating or data caps, he plans to reintroduce the Data Cap Integrity Act, a bill he first introduced in 2012. The measure would effectively ban zero rating by prohibiting broadband companies from checking the source of traffic as part of data cap management.

The bill would also officially make broadband providers submit all data caps and tiered data plans to the FCC for certification, without which they wouldn’t be able to bring them to market. Only data caps that “reasonably limit network congestion without unnecessarily restricting Internet use” would qualify for certification under the agency’s net neutrality rules.

A spokesperson for Wyden did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what Wyden would consider sufficient action from the FCC on zero rating or data caps. The agency previously prohibited the imposition of data caps as a condition of Charter Communications Inc.’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc., but it hasn’t otherwise taken action on zero rating.