Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are not providing consumers with enough information about their data-throttling practices as required by a regulatory rule, according to a consumer group.
Public Knowledge said the four companies are violating the Federal Communications Commission's transparency rule, which requires that carriers disclose why they throttle data and the speed of throttled data so that consumers can make an informed decision on what service plan to get.
Carriers throttle, or reduce, a customer's Internet speeds when there is heavy usage and congestion on their networks. It is typically applied to customers with unlimited data plans.
The public-interest group sent letters to each of the carriers Wednesday, kicking off a complaint process that could result in fines against the companies.
The letters come after Verizon Wireless last month announced that it would throttle the 4G LTE speeds of the 5% of its unlimited data customers who use the most bandwidth. Sprint has the same policy.
Public Knowledge says the policy isn't transparent enough for customers.
“If you don’t work at Sprint or Verizon, then you don’t know what that number is," Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg told The Times.
Verizon Wireless, Sprint and AT&T, which throttles unlimited data customers after they surpass 5 gigabytes, must also publish real-time information about congestion on their networks because that is the reason carriers say they throttle customers with unlimited data, Public Knowledge said.
Meanwhile, the group accused T-Mobile of not providing customers with accurate information about their data speeds when they are being throttled. After passing their 4G LTE data limits, a user will surf the Web at 2G data speeds, but if they use an app that tells them how fast their connection is, T-Mobile will provide results for the high-speed network, not the throttled one they are actually using, Public Knowledge said.
"They’re preventing the individual subscriber from finding out what their connection speed is,” Weinberg said.
The carriers have 10 days to respond to the letters. If the response is not satisfactory to the group, it can file a formal complaint with the FCC. Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a letter to Verizon's chief executive saying he was "deeply troubled" by the company's plans to throttle speeds.
"The FCC has talked about how important these transparency rules are, so we think this is a great opportunity for the FCC to show how important they are,” Weinberg said.
Sprint said it goes to great lengths to be transparent and will review Public Knowledge's complaint. AT&T declined to comment. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile could not be reached for comment.
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