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FCC chief praises T-Mobile’s Binge On despite net neutrality concerns

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FCC chief Tom Wheeler has praised T-Mobile's Binge On promotion, describing the deal, which gives customers access to video content from certain providers without using their data, as "highly innovative and highly competitive." According to a report from Ars Technica, Wheeler made the comments at a recent FCC meeting when asked by a reporter if Binge On raised any concerns regarding net neutrality.

promotions like binge-on create an unequal playing field

Although Binge On is good for consumers in the short term, critics have pointed out that it could easily lead to arrangements that harm the open internet. After all, if certain media companies allow users to access content without eating into their data (a practice known as zero-rating), those users are incentivized to go to those companies. And if only larger, incumbent companies make these deals (although T-Mobile says that anyone is welcome to apply to join Binge On for no fee), it could harm smaller firms that may have better products to offer.

While the FCC's rules for protecting net neutrality — known as the Open Internet Order — are clear that ISPs and mobile carriers can't actively discriminate against certain types of traffic, the world of zero-rating is more of a gray area. Net neutrality advocates have been saying for a long time that zero-rating can harm consumers, but Wheeler's recent statements suggest the FCC is more concerned with appearing "pro-innovation."

"Mother, may I innovate?" is a rallying cry for anti-regulators

T-Mobile CEO John Legere has previously stated that he wants to "keep the internet open," but doesn't want to "let the FCC kill competition with overzealous regulation." Similarly, critics of the Open Internet Order have claimed that the legislation will force companies to check the legality of their products with the FCC before introducing them. "Mother, May I Innovate?" was the title of one blog post by the CTIA, the industry body that lobbies on behalf of T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon, and others.

Wheeler directly referenced this phrase at the recent FCC meeting, said Ars Technica, telling reporters: "I also chuckle at the fact that as we were debating this, everyone was saying, 'Oh this is going to thwart innovation, it's going to be terrible, people are going to come to the FCC to say, "Mother, may I?" before they do anything.' Well that certainly didn't happen here." But while the FCC is congratulating itself on not obstructing companies, it may have lost sight of its duty to protect consumers.