FCC wastes no time in bringing the net neutrality hammer down hard on mobile carriers

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Shoot the first one out the door. That’ll give them to know our intentions as serious.

The Federal Communications Commission took a hard swat at AT&T, fining it $100 million for trying to weasel out of unlimited data deals it offered back in the days when the iPhone was being launched…

We find that AT&T…apparently willfully and repeatedly violated the Commission’s Open Internet Transparency Rule by: (1) using the misleading and inaccurate term “unlimited” to label a data plan that was in fact subject to prolonged speed reductions after a customer used a set amount of data; and (2) failing to disclose the express speed reductions that it applied to “unlimited” data plan customers once they hit a specified data threshold.

There’s still a legal and bureaucratic maze to traverse before AT&T actually has to write a check, but if it stands it’ll be the biggest fine ever levied for this kind of corporate behavior. The basis for it is the bits of the FCC’s 2010 network neutrality decision that a federal appeals court left standing, but the fine also signals an intent to aggressively enforce this year’s decision to bring broadband infrastructure and service under common carrier rules.

That message wasn’t lost on Sprint. It lost no time announcing it would stop throttling the top five percent of its data hogs when they popped their limits. So far, Verizon, which throttles so-called unlimited customers under certain conditions, and T-Mobile, which throttles all customers subject to data caps once those limits are exceeded, haven’t changed policy. But you can bet both companies are looking over their shoulder, wondering if the FCC is serious about enforcing its no throttling, no filtering rules.

Expect data plan changes all around: a $100 million fine is about as serious as it gets.