Net neutrality seems to be a politically charged concept. I am not sure why. All net neutrality says is that you have to treat all content providers equally.
AT&T, apparently, doesn’t like that and so they are making up stories that have nothing to do with the truth.
After the Trump FCC decided that they didn’t really like the federal net neutrality rules and reversed the decision that was made by the Obama FCC, California passed its own net neutrality law.
California’s law was passed in 2018. It said, basically, that you can give away free data as you give away free data equally.
So how does this impact AT&T?
AT&T owns HBO. They decided that AT&T customers could watch HBO and the data that they used while watching HBO would be exempt for any data caps. So, assume that a user had a 100 gigabyte data plan and they used 50 gigabytes watching HBO during the month. Effectively, that would raise there data plan to 150 gigabytes at no extra cost. This is a significant benefit to people who have low data “caps”.
BUT, and here is the problem. If you used those 50 gigabytes to watch a competitor’s TV, say Netflix, that data usage would not be exempt and if you exceeded your data plan cap as a result, you have to pay an overage charge or whatever the plan did in a situation like that.
The Internet providers sued California because they wanted to be able to give preferential treatment to some providers. Maybe it was providers they owned or maybe, like Apple, it was providers that paid them millions of dollars a year. In any case, it was illegal under California’s 2018 law and they sued.
That law finally took effect last month after a federal judge refused to issue an injunction – an indication that this judge did not think the likelihood of the Internet providers winning was high.
So what did AT&T do?
What they could have done, according to Stanford law professor Barbara van Schewick is treat all providers equally and give customers free data whether they chose to watch HBO or Netflix.
But that is not what they did.
Instead AT&T decided to shut off what is called “sponsored data” (meaning that the sender – the content provider – is paying, in some way, for the data that you use) OUTSIDE OF CALIFORNIA. Also inside, but outside. I don’t exactly understand why they think that California law prohibits them from giving away free data in, say, Georgia. It does not.
Of course, giving away free data is only important if the Internet provider has ridiculously, low data caps. Typically this affects poor people more than affluent people.
AT&T is claiming, and this is where they are lying, that California law prohibits them from giving away free data and prohibits them from giving away free data in states like Idaho.
They were never very subtle about what they were doing. They wanted to favor their own services to the detriment of competitors and that is exactly what net neutrality is designed to prevent.
Stay tuned; this is not over. It is also unclear whether the Biden FCC will reinstate net neutrality nationally. They at least seem to be investigating the blatant lies that the Internet carrier cartel has been promoting that everyone has great Internet connectivity and plans. The pandemic proved that statement very false.
Credit: Ars Technica