Wheeler doesn’t tip hand on 'ongoing' zero-rating probe

Wheeler doesn’t tip hand on 'ongoing' zero-rating probe

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday that an inquiry into so-called zero-rating, the term for giving consumers free data use in exchange for viewing ads or certain websites, was “ongoing.”

“We’re collecting information, as I’ve been telling you for months, we’re in ongoing discovery mode to try and have an understanding of just what is the spectrum that we’re dealing with here so that we can deal with these issues on a case by case basis,” he said, on a day when protesters had delivered petitions on the issue.

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“And that’s what we’re in the process of doing and we certainly appreciate, you know, the input that we had this morning and all the other input that we’ve gotten on the topic."

He also said the issue was “broad and it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.” His comments came at the commission’s monthly open meeting.

Last year, the commission wrote to several companies who offer zero-rated services or products — including AT&T and T-Mobile. Since then, he has been reticent, to indicate whether the probe will turn into a more formal investigation or lead to punishments against providers.

But his comments come after a federal court upheld strict rules the commission adopted last year to ensure net neutrality, the idea that all content on the internet should be treated in the same way.

Some have speculated that zero-rating constitutes a net-neutrality violation because it could guide consumers to one service or site over another. Wheeler noted on Friday that the commission had not specifically addressed zero-rating in its net neutrality rules.

Zero-rating products are a growing area of interest for internet service providers. T-Mobile's product, for example, lets customers stream many participating video services without cutting into their monthly data allowance.. Other carriers let advertisers sponsor data use.