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FCC to Verizon: ‘All the kids do it’ is no excuse for throttling unlimited data

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during an open meeting to receive public comment on proposed open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking and spectrum auctions in May. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The nation's top telecom regulator doesn't much like Verizon's latest attempt to justify slowing down 4G LTE for a select group of its customers.

Just because Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T all slow down mobile data for users who go over their monthly limit — or who account for a disproportionate share of consumption — doesn't make it okay for Verizon to do the same, said Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

In recent weeks, Wheeler and Verizon have been at loggerheads over a new policy from the wireless company that will slow down the top 5 percent of LTE users on unlimited data plans when the network is extremely busy. The plan doesn't go into effect until October, but days after it was announced Wheeler sent a strongly worded letter to Verizon demanding that it explain its actions. Verizon wrote back that its throttling activity fell under the definition of "reasonable network management" and, moreover, that other wireless carriers had similar policies.

But Wheeler rejected that argument Friday, telling reporters that Verizon's network management policies risked becoming a "business issue." (Verizon skeptics worry that the company is trying to shift unlimited data customers onto more profitable metered data plans.)

"'All the kids do it' is something that never worked with me when I was growing up, and it didn't work for my kids," said Wheeler. "We have to be careful about attempts to reframe the issue."

A Verizon spokesman didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecommunications and the Internet. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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