The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of telecom related regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Briefing.
FCC T-Mobile Settlement
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced it had reached a settlement with T- Mobile to resolve an investigation into whether the company failed to adequately disclose speed and data restrictions associated with its unlimited data plan. Totaling $48 million, the settlement includes the following elements:
- A $7.5 million fine to be paid to the U.S. Treasury.
- A requirement that T-Mobile to fund a $35.5 million consumer benefit program for T-Mobile and MetroPCS “unlimited” mobile data customers. Under this program customers will be offered both discounts of 20% off (up to $20) of the regular price for any in-stock accessory and 4 GB of additional data if they have a mobile Internet data line under T-Mobile’s “Simple Choice MINT” plan or a tablet plan under the MetroPCS brand. Eligible customers will receive notice about these benefits by December 15, 2016.
- A requirement that T-Mobile spend at least $5 million dollars – plus any unredeemed funds from the consumer benefit program – to address the “homework gap” in low income school districts. Specifically, T-Mobile will provide free devices, such as tablets, to eligible public schools that students may take home and use for school work. It will also provide mobile broadband to the devices at a reduced cost to the schools, and at no cost to the students or their families. T-Mobile is expected to start the program in October 2017 and enroll 5,000 students per quarter over four years, totaling up to 80,000 students.
The investigation began after the FCC received complaints from T-Mobile and MetroPCS customers who felt misled when they discovered their “unlimited” data plan included “de-prioritized” data speeds after using a fixed amount of data each month. Under its “Top 3 Percent Policy,” T-Mobile “deprioritizes” its “heavy” data users during times of network contention or congestion. According to consumers, this policy rendered data services “unusable” for many hours each day and substantially limited their access to data.
The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet transparency rules require broadband Internet providers to give accurate and sufficient information to consumers about their Internet services so consumers can make informed choices. As part of the settlement, T-Mobile will: (1) update and improve its disclosures regarding its “unlimited” plans and cease the use of the term “unlimited” to label such plans if they are subject to congestion management techniques that may result in consumers experiencing data at speeds below those advertised for the plan; (2) notify individual customers when their data usage approaches the threshold; and (3) adopt the FCC’s “Consumer Broadband Label” to provide more information and clarity on service terms, including speed, reliability and cost, such as fees and other add-on charges.
FCC Report on Empowering Consumers
The FCC released a Report entitled “Empowering The 21st Century Consumer” that outlines the recent actions that the FCC has taken to protect consumers while promoting the competition and ingenuity to keep markets thriving. Among the specific FCC actions mentioned in the Report are the adoption of the Open Internet rules and the enforcement actions against companies seen violating its transparency requirements; steps taken to encourage cell phone unlocking , enforcement efforts against Wi-Fi blocking, the adopting of inmate calling service reform, and ensuring universal access by modernizing the Lifeline, E-Rate and universal service programs.