AT&T (NYSE: T) is once again facing criticism that, by not including any traffic that goes over its wireless femtocells for its wireline U-verse broadband users, it is violating the FCC's net neutrality rules.
The telco's move is part of its usage based billing (UBB) practice, in which users can be charged extra if they go over their monthly set bandwidth usage limit.
As more consumers cut their ties with the PSTN in favor of wireless voice, AT&T has been offering femtocell devices that can improve wireless device reception by routing voice traffic over the customer's broadband network.
The problem is that if a U-verse customer uses a femtocell from one of AT&T's competitors like Sprint (NYSE: S) or Verizon (NYSE: VZ) Wireless and connects it to the telco's gateway, that traffic will count against their data cap.
"Wireless traffic from your AT&T 3G MicroCell does not count toward your monthly home broadband plan," said the AT&T U-verse FAQ page, adding that users have to register with AT&T so their wireless and wireline U-verse accounts can be linked together.
Of course, AT&T is not alone.
Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), another UBB advocate, would count online video usage if it came from another source like Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), but not from its own Streampix service.
Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group focused on Internet and technology issues, has asked the FCC to investigate Comcast's data caps. They are still waiting for some answer as to what action the regulator will take on this issue.
"There is one easy-to-understand concern about data caps that everyone should be able to agree on: ISPs should not be able to use data caps anticompetitively," said Michael Weinberg, a staff attorney with Public Knowledge, in a blog post. "The company that connects you to the internet should not be able to abuse its control of that connection in order to make its unrelated services more attractive."
UBB and net neutrality have been controversial issues in both the United States and Canada.
In 2010, the FCC passed net neutrality guidelines that require service providers to treat all Internet communications equally. Since that time, the guidelines have been challenged in court by various service providers, including Verizon.
- Public Knowledge has this post
- here's FierceWireless' take
AT&T's femtocell policy raises net neutrality concerns, group warns
FCC appoints UBB supporter Steven Wildman as chief economist