Consumer groups say AT&T is using its latest data-cap exemptions to prop up its satellite-TV business by disfavoring streaming video competitors. AT&T announced its plan to “zero rate” the company’s own content from wireless usage caps yesterday, likely hoping the Apple and Sony press conferences would distract most tech journalists from the news (that unsurprisingly appears to have worked). Under the proposal, users that subscribe to both AT&T wireless and DirecTV service can stream DirecTV content without it counting against their shared data plan allotments.
AT&T acquired DirecTV in a $69 billion deal last year. Consumer advocacy group Free Press was quick to point out that AT&T’s plan puts streaming competitors at a distinct disadvantage.
“This isn t really free data,” Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said of AT&T’s latest effort. “It s a way for AT&T to keep you paying for two services instead of one, and a roadblock designed to prevent you from using your data on any content AT&T doesn t own.”
The anti-competitive implications for the video market are clear as a bell,” said Wood. “Locking internet users into old-fashioned pay-TV subscriptions, or even steering them toward those subscriptions and toward the broadband providers own video content, may be great business for AT&T. But it s a bad deal for internet users and competing content creators.
The FCC has taken heat for not following a laundry list of other countries and banning such practices outright when crafting net neutrality rules. And while the FCC said it would take a look at the anti-competitive impact of companies favoring their own content in this fashion on a case by case basis, so far they’ve done absolutely nothing to deter the behavior. As a result Verizon, AT&T and Comcast now all exempt their own content from usage caps, and Sprint and T-Mobile have launched confusing plans that charge users a premium to avoid the throttling of games, videos and music.
And this is likely only AT&T testing the water. Later this year the company plans to launch three new DirecTV branded streaming services to compete with Netflix that are also expected to not count against AT&T wireless usage allotments.
However according to AT&T, the company isn’t violating net neutrality.
“We are not treating our services differently from any other data,” AT&T claims, despite the very obvious fact that they are. “This feature is simply our way of saying thanks to customers that purchase both video and mobility services from AT&T.”
Despite being technically the same company, AT&T has been telling media outlets that DirecTV pays AT&T to have cap-exempt status, and that any other company can also pay AT&T for the same preferential treatment.
While the FCC launched an “informal inquiry” back in January, there has been no word since on any notable policy decisions from the agency, so we asked for an update.
“The Commission’s informal policy review is ongoing,” the FCC said to DSLReports.com in a statement. “Chairman Wheeler said the Commission would keep an eye on new developments in this area and we are continuing to do so.”
While the FCC “keeps an eye” on things, ISPs continue to test the boundaries of the agency’s net neutrality rules, and are so far discovering — there aren’t any.