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Senate bill would make internet data caps subject to net neutrality rules

comcast xfinity cable (stock)

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a noted supporter of online consumer rights, has announced a bill that would set rules for how internet providers could deploy capped data plans. The Data Cap Integrity Act is meant to make sure that if companies limit the amount of data that can be uploaded or downloaded in a given time period, it's transparent to consumers, follows general net neutrality principles, and is designed to "reasonably limit network congestion" rather than discourage internet use or take advantage of a lack of competition. Data caps have become increasingly common, as have tiered plans on both wired or mobile broadband, though it's not clear whether this bill would only cover home ISPs or also mobile carriers.

ISPs have a history of implementing caps without much transparency, and making the process clearer is certainly laudable. The bill would require the FCC to establish a central standard for tracking data, as well as provide tools for the customer to monitor how much they've uploaded and downloaded. Data meters already exist for Comcast and some other ISPs, so this would codify them.

"[ISPs] may not, for purposes of measuring data usage or otherwise, provide preferential treatment of data."

Another section, however, says that ISPs "may not, for purposes of measuring data usage or otherwise, provide preferential treatment of data that is based on the source or the content of the data." This is, among other things, a swipe at Comcast, which exempts its own streaming video service from caps. It's also another volley in the ongoing fight over net neutrality. Wyden's bill is vague about what constitutes an internet service provider, so it could possibly apply to wireless data as well as home internet, which bears the brunt of most existing regulation. Mobile companies have been adamant about fighting net neutrality, and even the relatively light FCC Open Internet rules are currently tied up in appeals.

Wyden's proposal is likely to meet opposition in the Senate, particularly from Republicans who are against commercial regulation generally and net neutrality specifically. Nonetheless, he hopes to quash caps that "create challenges for consumers and run the risk of undermining innovation in the digital economy if they are imposed bluntly and not designed to truly manage network congestion."

The Verge
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