On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced plans to protect net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a utility under Title II of Communications Act. That’s great! Even better: It seems that his plans will extend to mobile Internet as well.
This addition means mobile carriers that provide data, like Verizon and AT&T, won’t be able to block or throttle websites, apps, or other data services so long as they’re legal. And in day to day use, the mobile protections may affect most users even more than the broadband protections.
In an op-ed for Wired, Wheeler wrote, “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.”
Though we browse the same Internet on mobile devices that we do on desktops, the mobile interface is more limited. For example, the whole point of stand-alone apps is to get around problems of limited data or screen space by creating optimized versions of sites and services.
When Comcast throttled Netflix, it was frustrating, but there were other streaming services to turn to, or you could set up a virtual private network. Some users may not have even noticed it was happening in the background. But on mobile, every slowdown and glitch is noticeable and disruptive. And it isn’t as easy to pivot to another site or set up a work around.
T-Mobile’s preferential treatment of certain services is a good example of a specifically mobile net neutrality problem. Music Freedom is T-Mobile’s audio streaming setup that allows people to use certain music services without it counting against their monthly data limit. By putting some services on the list while other similar ones continue to eat data, T-Mobile pushes customers toward pre-approved services.
Mobile data providers are going to fight the FCC’s proposal. T-Mobile has spoken out against Title II reclassification, and Verizon wrote in November, “Reclassification under Title II ... would in and of itself threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation. That course will likely also face strong legal challenges and would likely not stand up in court.”
AT&T echoed this idea on Monday, writing, “Title II telecommunications services is a road to nowhere that will not provide the FCC authority to adopt open Internet rules.”
Though your mobile carrier is probably displeased, today’s proposal is a major victory for net neutrality advocates and anyone who wants to enjoy a free and open Internet. And the FCC’s inclusion of mobile data is a productive step toward reducing the number of times per day that people want to throw their smartphones at a wall.