Tech groups want public probe of zero-rating plans

A large group of tech companies and advocates wants a public probe of new service offerings from wireless carriers, which they say could run afoul of net neutrality rules. 

The group sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday pressing the agency to take its review of zero-rating plans out from behind closed doors. 

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“Making decisions on these cases would set precedents for future practices, and would have implications for the Internet ecosystem that reach far beyond the stakeholders directly affected by these individual plans,” they wrote.

“These decisions are too important to happen behind closed doors.”

The letter was signed by companies like Yelp, Vimeo, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Medium, Mozilla and Reddit. Advocacy groups like Engine, Credo, Demand Progress and Access Now also signed on. 

The letter focuses on the business model of internet service providers exempting certain video or data from a customer’s monthly data cap, a process known as zero-rating. 

Major wireless carriers like Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have rolled out these offerings, which are popular among customers. But advocates warn that those offerings have the ability to distort the market and could give carriers undue power to favor some content over others. 

The FCC passed rules last year to prevent Internet service providers from blocking, slowing or offering paid fast lanes for internet traffic. It did not explicitly ban zero-rating but said it would judge the offerings on a case-by-case basis under a broader conduct standard. 

The agency held a series of meetings with companies earlier this year to look into the offerings, but it has taken no public action. 

The group on Tuesday said it wants to add its voice to the debate. 

“We urge you to open a public process to inform your evaluation of existing zero­rating plans,” the letter said. “The FCC’s process in this critical area would be immeasurably enriched by the participation of diverse stakeholders, many of whose input helped shape the Open Internet rules.”