FTC, AT&T reached a settlement over internet throttling

The legal battle between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the telecom giant, AT&T, has come to a conclusion after the two parties have reached to a settlement deal over the company’s “misleading” internet throttling policies.

The settlement agreement hopes to end the legal showdown of the two parties involving a case filed by the FTC back in 2014 accusing AT&T of slowing down data sent to wireless devices, a practice called, internet throttling.

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco said that the two parties requested for a 90-day stay for the FTC to review and vote on the proposed settlement. The value of the settlement, which reached an agreement on August 2nd, was not disclosed.

In 2014, the trade regulatory agency sued the second-largest telecom and wireless network provider, AT&T, claiming that the company failed to inform their users that they are slowing down their internet connection speeds if they are heavy-users. In essence, AT&T, like other wireless network providers, would establish a throttling point, at which the user’s internet connection, will be throttled once the limit is reached. However, AT&T is doing this to those who have subscribed to their unlimited data plans who expect that their internet was truly unlimited, no matter how heavy they use it.

As a response, AT&T said that the throttling only affected a small portion of their users and that they are notified via a text message when the throttling kicked in. The carrier called the claims made by the FTC “baseless” and “baffling.”

Back in 2016, the case was dismissed by the courts under the grounds that AT&T was a common carrier and because of it was not subject to FTC jurisdiction. But the back-and-forth battle continues in 2018 when a federal court decided that the FTC could move forward with its case against AT&T, saying that its data services were not part of its common carrier status.

Internet throttling has been a cause of polarized debates in the past few years with people claiming that throttling internet speeds are tantamount to false advertising as they cannot maximize the use of their unlimited data plans. However, wireless network providers are justifying the throttling practice as part of their efforts to prevent network congestion.

However, a new study has revealed that internet throttling is a very prevalent practice, and the reason is not networking congestion. Researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst conducted more than 650,000 tests in the U.S. found out that internet service providers are throttling different services with a bias to other services. The researchers believe that the practice is a violation of the basic tenets of net neutrality.

“Net neutrality has been the subject of considerable public debate over the past decade. Despite the potential impact on content providers and users, there is currently a lack of tools or data for stakeholders to independently audit the net neutrality policies of network providers,” reads the study manuscript.

The study has shown that from early 2018 to early 2019, AT&T Inc. throttled Netflix Inc.,  70% of the time and Google’s YouTube service 74% of the time. Even if AT&T claims that this move is to make sure that there will be no network congestion, it appears that this claim is not the reason for throttling Netflix and Youtube, as researchers discovered that, at the same time, the wireless carrier did not touch the internet speed when people use the services of Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video at all.

The researchers of the study, namely, Fangfan Li, Alan Mislove, and David Choffnes from Northeastern University, together with Arian Akhavan Niaki, and Phillipa Gill from University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that wireless companies are throttling internet speeds all the time, and the practice is very “pervasive.”

“They are doing it all the time, 24/7, and it’s not based on networks being overloaded,” said David Choffnes, associate professor at Northeastern University and one of the study’s authors.

The authors of the study denounced the claims made by wireless network providers saying that people need to sacrifice some of their internet speed in order to assure that everyone else can use the internet and prevent network congestion that affects everyone. For the researchers, wireless networks are throttling the internet for money amidst the fact that they are violating net neutrality.

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