Wireless companies under fire for slowing speeds

Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile are all the subject of new complaints for their practice of slowing some subscribers’ wireless speeds during high-traffic hours.

Consumer interest group Public Knowledge filed letters against the four major wireless companies on Wednesday, as the first step in the formal process of accusing them of violating the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules on transparency.


According to the organization, the companies’ current policies for “throttling” — or slowing down Internet speeds for heavy data users — are vague and ambiguous. To stay on the right side of the law, they need to be more clear, said Vice President Michael Weinberg.

“If the FCC’s transparency rules mean anything, they must require carriers to let subscribers know why, when and to what speed their connections might be throttled,” he said in a statement.

The companies have been under scrutiny for slowing Web speeds for some users who take up a lot of data. The firms say the practice is rare but necessary to fairly manage traffic when their networks are busy.

Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler warned Verizon that the company was aiming to use a loophole to increase its revenues. 

Public Knowledge, however, is taking aim at the practice through the FCC’s Internet service transparency rules, which a court upheld earlier this year even while striking down the commission’s broader net neutrality regulations.

Sprint and Verizon don’t do enough to explain precisely when someone’s service will be throttled, the group said, and, along with AT&T, they don’t give real-time information about which areas are being throttled. Additionally, Public Knowledge accused T-Mobile of violating the rules by not allowing people whose service is being slowed to determine the actual speed available to them.

“In order to comply with FCC requirements, carriers must disclose eligibility thresholds in a way that makes sense to the public,” Weinberg said.

In a statement, Sprint spokesman Doug Duvall said that the company looks forward to reviewing Public Knowledge’s letter and “will respond as appropriate.”

“Sprint goes to great lengths to be transparent about its network management practices,” Duvall added. 


Updated at 3:24 p.m.