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Friday, August 08, 2014, 07:56 pm PT (10:56 pm ET)

FCC chairman slams Verizon's 'all the kids do it' defense to data throttling

During a news conference on Friday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded to Verizon's claims that its planned data throttling program is a "widely accepted" practice, saying that an "all the kids do it" argument is not justifiable.

FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler


According to The Wall Street Journal, Wheeler chided Verizon for its defense of an upcoming "network optimization" change, which consisted of pointing fingers at other U.S. cellular providers, calling it an attempt to "reframe the issue."

"'All the kids do it' was never something that worked with me when I was growing up and didn't work with my kids," Wheeler said.

In July, Verizon announced plans to slow down data speeds for a select group of high-use subscribers when its 4G LTE network bogs down. The shift is scheduled to take effect in October, when users with grandfathered-in unlimited data plans may see slower than normal data speeds when performing high bandwidth operations like streaming high-definition video.

"My concern in this instance is that it is moving from technology and engineering issues into business issues," Wheeler said. "Such as choosing between different subscribers based on your economic relationship with them."

The statement echoes arguments raised when the FCC chief sent a letter to Verizon CEO Daniel Mead last week, voicing concern over the proposed throttling plan.

Today's comments were made in response to a rebuttal letter from the telecom's SVP of Federal Regulatory Affairs Kathleen Grillo, who defended "network optimization" by saying the "practice has been widely accepted with little or no controversy."

When smartphones first hit market, cellular providers like Verizon and AT&T offered unlimited data plans to help spur on sales. A boom in popularity, largely driven by Apple's iPhone, left the telcos with an infrastructure poorly equipped to deal with the glut of data-hungry subscribers, which in turn prompted the halt of unlimited plans.

At the time, both Verizon and AT&T let subscribers keep their all-you-can-eat data allotments as long as they continued to pay the same top-tier monthly fee in perpetuity. With faster wireless technology and ever-increasing demands for more data, however, companies have started to throttle speeds for power users. Verizon, for example, says the practice is an appropriate response to deal with those subscribers who use a "disproportionate amount of network resources and have an out-sized effect on the network."

An FCC spokesperson said other U.S. carriers have today received letters asking similar questions to those posed to Verizon.