Internet service providers who impose arbitrary data caps and fees on customers who supposedly access too much information are the targets of a new bill introduced Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The Data Cap Integrity Act (PDF) would charge the Federal Communications Commission with developing a standard for how ISPs can measure data usage and implement a rule which mandates all digital content be treated equally when utilizing that standard to create data caps.
“Americans are increasingly tethered to the Internet and connecting more devices to it, but they don’t really have the tools to effectively manage data consumption across their networks,” Wyden said in an advisory. “Data caps create challenges for consumers and run the risk of undermining innovation in the digital economy if they are imposed bluntly and not designed to truly manage network congestion.”
Although carriers that use data caps, like AT&T and Comcast, insist they are necessary to keep the network operating smoothly, a study published last week by The New America Foundation found that they’ve only served to enhance profits and limit competition.
The study found that broadband providers have enjoyed increasing profits and decreasing costs, to the point where many are seeing “gross margins as high as 95 percent,” by some estimates. “For these companies, selling broadband packages even to the heaviest users is still quite profitable,” researchers wrote.
“Internet use is central to our lives and to our economy,” Wyden said. “Future innovation will undoubtedly require consumers to use more and more data — data caps should not impede this innovation and the jobs it creates. This bill is intended to help consumers manage their data more effectively and ensure that data caps are used only to serve the legitimate purpose of addressing congestion.”
About 64 percent of American Internet users subscribe to ISPs that limit their bandwidth.
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