AT&T data throttling lawsuit’s dismissal won’t affect net neutrality rules

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AT&T is off the hook in a data throttling lawsuit that the Federal Trade Commission brought against the carrier. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the suit in a move that could have ramifications for both wireless and wireline data delivery.

In its decision, the appeals court reversed the decision of a lower court, which had denied AT&T’s motion to dismiss the case, filed by the FTC in 2014. The FTC had accused AT&T of slowing the data speeds, or “throttling,” heavy users on its unlimited wireless data plan, in some cases by as much as 90 percent. The practice, according to the commission, was deceptive.

For its part, AT&T didn’t deny that it had throttled some users, but instead argued that an exception is in place for common carriers. The Ninth Circuit agreed with this argument.

An AT&T spokesperson told FierceTelecom simply, “We’re pleased with the decision.”

The FTC has not yet said whether it would appeal the decision, telling Reuters only that it is “considering our options for moving forward.”

Data throttling has been a contentious issue in both the wireless and wireline communities for years. Just this spring, AT&T and other wireless carriers gave the stink-eye to Netflix when the SVOD provider revealed it was deliberately downgrading the bitrate of its streamed video to mobile devices. Even though the provider claimed the move was well-intentioned, public outcry led Netflix to make the bitrate downgrade optional.

Other battles over traffic prioritization, bandwidth throttling and other forms of traffic shaping were key factors in the passage of net neutrality rules by the FCC in early 2015. The rules specifically bar throttling.

AT&T will probably not face any other actions around its wireless throttling. The FTC’s lawsuit was originally filed before net neutrality rules came into effect, as The Consumerist noted in an April 2015 article.

“Since the FTC isn’t suing about the fairness of the throttling practice itself, but about AT&T’s alleged failure to clearly disclose its throttling policy to customers, the judge says this is not an issue of regulatory overlap,” the article explained.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Consumerist article

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