Remember the old excuse, "But Mom, everyone is doing it"? Verizon seems to be employing that logic as it responds to criticism from the Federal Communications Commission over the wireless giant's decision to start slowing data speeds for some unlimited-plan customers on its LTE network. Verizon responded to a letter from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, calling the practice "widely accepted."
Reuters originally reported that the letter from Wheeler was written to Verizon CEO Dan Mead. Kathleen Grillo, a Verizon senior vice president in charge of Federal Regulatory Affairs, told the commission via letter on Mead's behalf that the company policy met FCC principles.
Grillo wrote that under its "network optimization" policy, "under certain circumstances, the speeds of a few heavy users may be temporarily slowed at congested cell sites in order to provider a great wireless experience to all of our customers."
Similar Behavior Elsewhere
Grillo cited this as not only common industry practice and prudent network management, but also claimed that it was endorsed in the FCC's 2010 Open Internet order as a way to make sure capacity is fairly allocated in times of congestion. Sprint has a strategy similar to that of Verizon, slowing speeds for the top 5 percent of its data users when sites become congested.
Verizon says its optimization policy applies only to the top 5 percent of users on unlimited plans. Wheeler was bothered with what seemed like Verizon's focus on individual users at the expense of the whole network.
"'Reasonable network management' concerns the technical management of your network," Wheeler had written to Verizon. "It is not a loophole designed to enhance your revenue streams."
Wheeler has said that Internet service providers should deliver promised speeds if they want to avoid FCC scrutiny. Grillo wrote that when the company implemented the network management practice it disclosed its plans to customers beforehand, reviewed it with the FCC and even discussed it with consumer groups.
Citing similar policies by the other major wireless carriers, she wrote that Verizon's tactics were "similar to, though in some cases more targeted than, network management practices commonly used throughout the industry." She also pointed out that Verizon was giving 4G LTE customers several months' notice of its policy.
Not So Unlimited
When asked by Wheeler why Verizon Wireless is extending speed reductions from its 3G network to its more efficient 4G LTE network, Grillo replied: "We have doubled the capacity available for 4G LTE customers in many parts of the country over recent months through our XLTE initiative. As a result, independent testing consistently confirms that Verizon Wireless has the largest and most reliable wireless network."
Network management policies such as Verizon's are becoming more common as carriers try to wean customers off unlimited data plans. Verizon's current policy is to make customers pay full price for device upgrades if they want to keep unlimited data.
The FCC's enforcement bureau has recently contacted ISPs about their obligation to be transparent about how their networks are managed and to deliver on promised data speeds.