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FCC wants providers to explain their data exemption schemes

AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile have to talk to the FCC by January 15th, 2016.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler once called T-Mobile's Binge On feature "highly innovative and highly competitive," but it looks like things have changed since then. The agency has summoned not only T-Mobile, but also AT&T and Comcast to answer questions about their data cap exemption offerings, according to Ars Technica. For T-Mo, that service is Binge On, which allows subscribers of qualifying data plans to stream videos from select services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO for free. AT&T's Sponsored Data and Data Perks Program allows subscribers to stream content from sponsors without eating up their data allowance. Finally, Comcast has an add-on service for XFINITY internet subscribers called Stream TV, which is exempted from customers' monthly data usage.

In the letter it sent each company, the FCC briefly explained the reason why they were being summoned for a discussion, though it all boils down to net neutrality. The agency told T-Mobile that some net neutrality advocates have expressed concerns over Binge On's potential to harm innovation, as it makes "certain video apps more attractive to others." It has a predetermined list of apps you can use for free, after all, and you can't choose which ones to include in the service.

In the FCC's letter to AT&T, it said that it wants to get all the facts from the companies themselves in order to understand "how these services relate to the Commission's goal of maintaining a free and open internet." And in the letter for Comcast, it said that Sling's CEO raised "level playing field concerns," and that others call Stream TV a new way to get around the FCC's net neutrality guidelines. Wheeler told Ars, however, that this isn't an official investigation, and the agency merely wants to stay informed about the companies' practices. Either way, the three are expected to schedule a meeting with the commission by January 15th, 2016 at the latest.

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