Verizon fires back at FCC over data throttling

verizon logo

Here’s the ten-word paraphrase of Verizon’s response to federal regulators’ complaints over how it throttles data speeds: “We ain’t done nuttin’ wrong, so stop pickin’ on us!”

That’s the gist of a letter Verizon sent to the Federal Communications Commission that went public this week. The letter, written by Verizon senior vice president of regulatory affairs Kathleen Grillo, responds to the FCC’s criticism over the wireless carrier’s throttling of 3G unlimited data plan users, and its plan to extend throttling to 4G LTE customers starting October 1.

“Our goal with our network optimization policy is to manage the shared and finite network resources in a manner that best serves our customers,” reads the letter, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Better yet, Verizon’s response accuses the FCC of hypocrisy—always a tactic bound to warm the heart of any Washington bureaucrat.

“The type of network optimization policy that we follow has been endorsed by the FCC as a narrowly targeted way to ensure a fair allocation of capacity during times of congestion,” Grillo writes. “In short this practice has been widely accepted with little or no controversy.”

(You can read the full letter from Verizon, courtesy of Ars Technica, which posted Grillo’s response on Scribd.)

Verizon’s pointed response was sparked by recent comments from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who accused the carrier last week of using the idea of network management as loophole to “enhance [Verizon’s] revenue streams.”

“I know of no past Commission statement that would treat as ‘reasonable network management’ a decision to slow traffic to a user who has paid, after all, for ‘unlimited’ service,’” Wheeler wrote in his initial letter to Verizon.

my verizon mobile

My Verizon Mobile is an app that shows how much data you've used each billing cycle, even though the FCC says that if you pay for unlimited data it shouldn't matter. 

According to Verizon’s data throttling policy, the company only goes after the top 5 percent of data users with unlimited plans. (Verizon stopped offering unlimited data plans three years ago, so these are users who are grandfathered in with plans they signed up for back in the heady days of the initial smartphone boom.) The unlimited plan users consuming the most data will experience slower speeds; Verizon claims the remaining 95 percent aren’t impacted at all. On its policy page, Verizon outlines ways you can monitor data usage and suggests that unlimited plan users unhappy with throttled speeds can always switch to tiered data plans. That caught the attention of the FCC’s Wheeler, who specifically called it out in his letter to Verizon as evidence that the company was hoping to push its customers into more lucrative plans with limited data allowances and overage fees.

Apart from its swipe at the FCC, the most interesting point of Verizon’s letter is that it’s hardly the only carrier to throttle data. (Indeed, Ars Technica has a summary of the ways different carriers handle throttling. Verizon’s letter specifically calls out its major rivals—Sprint says it throttles the top 5 percent of data users during “times of congestion,” AT&T will throttle 3G and 4G uses who exceed a set amount of data during a billing period, and T-Mobile reserves the right to reduce data throughput for subscribers who “use a disproportionate amount of network resources.” Verizon also suggests that rival carriers take a “less tailored” approach to throttling when compared to its policy.

Verizon’s spat with the FCC comes at an interesting time, as it’s also being accused of throttling Netflix for customers of its home Internet service. It will be interesting to see if this latest salvo answers any of the FCC’s questions about data throttling practices or adds more fuel to the fire.

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