Charter Withdraws Petition to Impose Data Caps in a Post-Trump FCC
Donald Trump enabled a LOT of unsavory behavior during his presidency, including a less-discussed allowance for telecom companies to run buck-wild against their customers. Thankfully, last week, as Joe Biden prepared to take the White House, Charter stepped back on their data cap petition.
Charter Communications is the company behind Spectrum. In June (mid-pandemic, mind you), they filed a petition to impose data caps. Data caps are restrictions on internet usage, meaning customers would be forced to spend more money. An especially low move after so many people were out of work or working from home—two situations where free and reliable internet are necessities.
But the FCC announced Tuesday, the last full day of Trump’s presidency, that Charter withdrew the petition.
The Charter Petition
In the petition, Charter made the argument that due to the prevalence of streaming, data caps haven’t hurt their competitors. This includes companies such as Comcast, AT&T, and Cox. If it isn’t hurting them, the market must be working. They even went as far as to claim that customers love data caps because they are a cost-effective alternative to unlimited data plans. This is simply untrue. Advocacy groups have proven that customers hate data caps. They frequently result in surprise fees and accidental overages. They refer to this as “bill shock”.
The company released a statement to Gizmodo, where they said the timing of the withdrawal had to do with the pandemic. They said, “In light of the ongoing severity of the global pandemic and its effects on our customers, we want to offer them the assurance that they will continue to benefit from unlimited access to broadband and the accompanying financial certainty it provides during these trying times and therefore have withdrawn our petition.”
Funny because, if that were what really mattered, they would not have filed the petition in the first place. The pandemic was raging in June, just as it is raging now. The only difference is we have a new president who was a part of the administration during the original data cap deal. Interesting.
The Obama Administration FCC and Data Caps
During Obama’s presidency, the Democratic FCC banned Charter from imposing data caps until 2023. It was a contractual condition in their merger with Time Warner in 2016. The whole point was to prevent a profit advantage over their competition. But Trump and his administration never had much regard for rules, so it comes as no surprise that the company thought they could start three years early.
Ajit Pai, Trump’s appointed FCC Chairman, referred to the ban as “micromanagement” of internet economics. “Micromanagement” was a favorite buzzword of his, when regulation was literally his entire job. The FCC is a regulatory organization. It is not “micromanagement” when managing and maintaining are the functions of the FCC. I’m afraid I have no simpler way to put it.
Under Pai, there is no doubt Charter felt there was a better chance of success with their petition. He repealed Net Neutrality, he made it possible for ISPs to bury disclosures, he gave up on the fight to lower the shockingly high cost of prison calls, and so much more. The executive director of Fight for the Future said Pai was “one of the most corrupt government officials of the century”.
I can’t say for sure President Biden’s position on this. I think he is likely to honor the Obama Administration’s deal. Thankfully for the customers, Trump is no longer a consideration. We will have to wait and see what happens in 2023.