Net Neutrality in Action: T-Mobile Agrees to Inform Users of Throttled Web Connections Speeds

by Matt Klassen on November 26, 2014

Since its UnCarrier promotional campaign began last year T-Mobile has experimented with several different ways of attracting customers, including the abolition of overage fees. Having done away with those onerous fees the company subsequently had to change its response to users exceeding their data limits, and so it implemented a policy of throttling, that is, slowing the data connection of those who go over their data allotment.

Now of course whenever anyone hears the word ‘throttling’ these days the notions of Net Neutrality and shady network practices immediately spring to mind, as part of the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to impose regulations on network management is to not only abolish “arbitrary” throttling—reducing network connections for no justified reason—but to increase the transparency of carriers’ management practices as well.

To that end the FCC reached out to T-Mobile recently, urging the carrier to be more open and honest about its throttling practices, for although such penalties for data overages do seem warranted under the current Net Neutrality standards (users aren’t paying overage fees after all), T-Mobile needs to clearly inform users about what has happened to their data connection. In the agreement, T-Mobile will now provide customers with tools to track their network connection speeds and better understand their data usage.

For those who feared the restrictions imposed upon the industry by stringent Net Neutrality standards, consider this a pertinent case study; the FCC’s fledgling open Internet policy at work. You’ll see in this case that the FCC has not told T-Mobile to stop throttling its customers for the reason that there is nothing arbitrary about T-Mobile’s decision to do so. As part of the company abolishing overage fees, it imposed justified restrictions on users’ network speed should they exceed their data allotment, reducing it to 128kbs or 64kbs, depending on their data plan.

Further, the company clearly lays out this policy in its user agreement, meaning users have already been duly informed that their network speeds will be reduced should they go over their data limits. This, my friends, is justified throttling, a policy that is actually beneficial to both carrier—in that it preserves the integrity of network performance—and customer—users get unlimited free, albeit slower, network access.

Now it’s obvious why the FCC would investigate T-Mobile’s overage policy, as any whisper of ‘throttling’ seems to have some Net Neutrality supporters crying foul, but it’s encouraging to see the only amendment the FCC made to this policy is that T-Mobile must clearly inform users of their network speeds and their data usage, again, a win for both sides.

“The FCC is committed to ensuring that broadband providers are transparent to consumers. I’m grateful T-Mobile has worked with the FCC to ensure that its customers are better informed about the speeds they are experiencing,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “Consumers need this information to fully understand what they are getting with their broadband service.”

In the end, while carriers, lobbyists, and Republicans would have us believe that Net Neutrality is the worst thing that could ever happen to the Internet, consider this a significant example to how such standards will likely be applied (at least most commonly applied) to the Internet. T-Mobile is allowed to slow its customers’ network connection if it can justify the action and be transparent about it. That’s all Net Neutrality supporters are asking for here, justification and explanation, and it’s particularly telling about the practices of some broadband carriers that even that is too much.

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

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