FCC takes issue with Verizon “Network Optimization”

by Matt Klassen on August 11, 2014

In late July Verizon announced changes to its Network Optimization service, applying what is little more than justified throttling to the company’s advanced 4G LTE network. Verizon’s decision to expand its controversial “network management” practices to its 4G service sparked outrage across the mobile world, prompting Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler, long thought to be a puppet of the mobile industry, to take a hard stance against Big Red, letting the company know its latest policy changes have “deeply troubled” the FCC.

As expected, the letter reignited what has been a longstanding battle between Verizon and the FCC over the latter’s infamous Net Neutrality standards, with Verizon Wireless CEO Daniel Mead stating he was “very surprised” to receive the letter. Further, Mead contends that Chairman Wheeler has completely misunderstood what Verizon has done. “There were many parts [of Wheeler’s letter] that were incorrect,” Mead said. “We have great respect for the FCC, but I’m not sure the chairman understood what we’re doing exactly.”

While I will admit that I’ve often called Wheeler’s comprehension of the entire mobile industry into question, it does seem that Verizon has done little to actually explain the changes it made; saying only that it is a standard industry practice. But unfortunately for Verizon the “But all the kids do it” defence simply won’t fly with the FCC.

“‘All the kids do it’ is something that never worked with me when I was growing up, and it didn’t work my kids,” Wheeler said, a reference to Verizon’s argument that its policy was consistent with the other wireless carriers.

Wheeler’s rejection of Verizon’s justification for throttling certain network subscribers—particularly those still on Verizon’s grandfathered unlimited plans—stands as the most recent volley in this ongoing back and forth between the Commission andAmerica’s largest wireless provider. But despite Wheeler’s strong words and despite how odious Verizon’s ongoing discriminatory throttling really is, it still remains to be seen if the FCC can actually do anything about Verizon’s latest policy changes.

Further, as Verizon’s Mead noted, the FCC seemed fine with the company’s “Network Optimization” practices when the company initially introduced them on its 3G network back in 2011, leading Mead to question why the FCC would now have a problem with Verizon applying the same network management standards to the company’s 4G LTE service.

The company has also taken issue with its optimization service being labelled ‘throttling,’ saying its industry standard smart network management done to alleviate bandwidth issues at heavy traffic times. But the reality is that these latest moves specifically target those still on Verizon’s unlimited data plan, a plan they’re able to keep until they change their terms of service with Big Red. Critics have argued that this latest policy change is nothing more than an attempt to force those remaining subscribers off the unlimited plan and onto one of Verizon’s more lucrative contracts.

While I ultimately agree with Wheeler’s assessment of Verizon’s policy changes, that they’re both discriminatory and unjustified and the company’s defence untenable, it seems that in this situation everyone has a valid point: The FCC is right to point out that Verizon’s throttling is both unjustified and unfair, and Verizon is right to point out that the FCC is yet again both confused and pointless.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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