Wheeler asks Comcast, AT&T and T-Mobile to explain data cap exemptions

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sent letters to Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA), AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ), summoning them to a Jan. 15 meeting to explain their various data-cap exemptions. 

The reach-out comes as these companies are catching heat for so-called zero-rating policies, which excludes products like Comcast's new IP-based video service Stream TV from data usage calculations. AT&T and Verizon, meanwhile, are both dabbling in sponsored data, in which an advertiser covers the data usage

In and of itself, zero rating is not a violation of the FCC's new Open Internet Order. But some of the execution could impact one of the law's key objectives: to make sure ISPs treat all traffic in an equal way.

Wheeler was quick to point out that the meetings are not part of an investigation, telling reporters that the agency simply plans to "have a discussion with us about some of the innovative things that they are doing." 

In his letter to Comcast, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau Chief Matthew DelNero referenced concerns recently registered by Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch over Comcast's cap exemptions. 

"As you may be aware, concerns about the manner in which Comcast offers [Stream TV] have been expressed," his letter said. "For example, the CEO of Sling TV has suggested Comcast data usage allowances and the inapplicability of those usage allowances to Stream TV raises 'level playing field' concerns."

For its part, Comcast released a statement earlier this week describing the nature of its data usage policy: "We are conducting data trials in select markets around the country, covering a small percentage of our customers," it said. "We designed the various plans we are trialing with a minimum 300 GB/month data plan because more than 90 percent of our customers use less data than that and are not affected. The trials are providing us with invaluable consumer feedback."

For more:
- read this FCC letter to Comcast
- read this Reuters story
- read this Ars Technica story

Related articles:
FCC's Wheeler beckons AT&T, T-Mobile on mobile data policies
T-Mobile, AT&T and others draw scrutiny with zero-rated data
Sling TV CEO comes out against Comcast's data caps
Comcast: Stream TV is IP-cable and shouldn't count against data usage limits