Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has expressed her desire to initiate a formal Notice of Inquiry into the effects of internet data caps on consumers. The FCC will also explore the possibility of taking measures to prevent data caps from negatively affecting competition or hindering access to broadband services, as per a letter obtained by Ars Technica.
“Internet access is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a necessity for everyone, everywhere,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “When we need access to the Internet, we don’t think about how much data is needed to get the job done, we just know it needs to get done. It’s time for the FCC to take a fresh look at how data caps affect consumers and competition. .”
With the notice of inquiry, the FCC “requests comments to better understand why data caps continue to be used despite consumers’ increased broadband needs and service providers’ demonstrated technical ability to offer unlimited data packages,” according to the letter.
However, Rosenworcel would not be able to take action regarding data restrictions at this time. The FCC currently has only four members (two Democrats and two Republicans) because the Senate refused to confirm President Biden’s first nominee, Gigi Sohn, who later withdrew her name for consideration. The White House has since appointed Anna Gomez, who appears to have the backing of the telecom industry, as a telecom attorney. Gomez’s nomination ceremony is scheduled for this Thursday, June 22.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband provider Comcast temporarily removed data caps, but it continues to impose a 1.2TB data cap on certain plans in some US regions. Charter’s deal with the FCC not to impose data caps on its Spectrum service (which hit when it bought Time Warner) expired this year, but the company recently said it has no plans to [reintroduce data caps] when that expires.
With the proposed notice of inquiry, the FCC has opened a new portal for consumers to report how data caps have affected them (on fixed or wireless broadband networks) at fcc.gov/datacapstories. That will help the FCC determine how data caps affect access for all “including people with disabilities, low-income consumers and historically disadvantaged communities, and access to online education, telehealth and telework,” the commission wrote.