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FCC chairman asks other US carriers to justify data throttling policies

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After a very public grilling of Verizon over the company's decision to start throttling some customers on unlimited plans, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is now asking every other major US carrier to provide some answers. This whole saga began last month, when Verizon announced that the top 5 percent of data users on unlimited plans may be hit with slower speeds starting October 1st. The news caught Wheeler's attention, and the FCC chairman called it "deeply troubling." Wheeler took issue with Verizon's targeting of unlimited customers, who pay a flat rate for all-you-can-eat data. Customers on tiered (and often more expensive) plans won't be subject to throttling under the policy.

But Verizon wasn't having any of it. In a written response, the largest US carrier insisted its network optimization methods are completely lawful. Verizon told Wheeler in no uncertain terms that throttling is now "widely accepted" throughout the wireless industry. The response letter even included excerpts from AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile outlining each company's respective approach to "network management." Essentially, the carrier's argument was that since everyone else has been doing this for years, there's no reason for the FCC to suddenly pick a fight with Verizon.

"'All the kids do it' was never something that worked for me when I was growing up."

That reasoning isn't sitting well with Wheeler. "'All the kids do it' was never something that worked for me when I was growing up," he told reporters today. "My concern in this instance — and it's not just with Verizon, by the way, we've written to all the carriers — is that it is moving from a technology and engineering issue to the business issues." So it sounds like Wheeler believes throttling should be an all or nothing, last resort for carriers. At the very least, he wants to know why unlimited users are getting a raw deal, and has asked AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile to offer up explanations.

But it's not hard to predict what they'll say, and Wheeler should already be very familiar with the argument. He's likely to hear that unlimited plans lead some customers to burn through a disproportionate amount of data. Carriers will tell Wheeler that unlimited customers have no reason to keep their data consumption in check, a freedom that can quickly lead to network congestion and bogged down performance for everyone. And they'll probably have some numbers handy to help back up those claims. Keep in mind that right now, he's only asking questions. So there's nothing to suggest Wheeler plans to take action against throttling or come to the rescue of unlimited data users. Even so, we're a bit perplexed as to why this controversy has erupted so suddenly, especially at a time when Wheeler and his FCC have another massively important matter on the agenda.