New FCC chairman ends zero-rating investigation; revokes Lifeline status of nine ISPs

7 Feb 2017

New US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has formally closed investigations into zero-rated services offered by mobile giants AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. The two telcos stood accused of violating the FCC’s net neutrality rules by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, but in a statement dated 3 February, Mr Pai asserted: ‘These free data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the FCC will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.’

In a parallel development, Pai also moved to revoke the Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) status – which grants permission to provide subsidised internet services to low-income households – of nine ISPs. The operators in question have been named as Spot On, Boomerang Wireless, KonaTel, FreedomPop, AR Designs, Kajeet, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico, Northland Cable and Wabash Independent Networks. All nine ISPs were designated as LBP participants within the last 30 days, and a new FCC chairman retains the right to scrap any such policy decisions made during that time span.

In justifying these revocations – and other related moves – Mr Pai referred to decisions made in the last month of his FCC predecessor’s tenure as: ‘in some cases … last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of Commissioners’.