Jan 13

Hello, Hello, Hell — Wireless Carrier’s ‘Pro-Consumer’ Plan Still Discriminates

It’s only been three weeks since the Federal Communications Commission voted to enact net neutrality regulations and already one company, wireless carrier MetroPCS, faces accusations of violating them.

The allegations stem from MetroPCS’s new pricing plans — especially its cheap $40 a month subscription. For that amount, users will get unlimited voice and text and unlimited YouTube, but visits to other sites will be restricted, as will the ability to use Skype or other VoIP services. MetroPCS also is offering less restrictive plans at $50 and $60 a month.

Consumer advocates say that this pricing model violates the FCC’s new rules, which prohibit wireless carriers from blocking competing VoIP services or Web sites.

For its part, MetroPCS calls its plans “pro-consumer” and “pro-competitive” and points out that consumers can still purchase plans without restrictions.

“We continue to offer consumers a full service, unlimited data plan,” the company told the Washington Posts. “We increased consumer choice by adding two new rate plans that are less expensive and enable consumers to select the service and content they want at a price point they can afford.”

But that statement misses the point: It’s not the cheap prices that violate neutrality or the data caps in themselves. Rather, the potential neutrality violations come from limits that are based on substantive factors — including the content of sites and the nature of particular applications.

If MetroPCS wants to offer a cheap plan that comes with low data caps, but where all data usage counts towards the caps, no one would say the company is violating neutrality principles.

As it is, however, a plan that allows unlimited YouTube viewing but not Netflix streaming, and that disallows Skype and other VoIP services, seems to conflict with the FCC’s new rules. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the FCC’s order will hold up in court. But if MetroPCS doesn’t back away from its new pricing plans, the company could well find itself litigating a test case of the new regulations.

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