Prepaid Wireless and Net Neutrality

A reader, KE, asks…

Hi, I’ve tried researching specifically how the current FCC’s rescinding of the previous Obama Era Net Neutrality rules -which under those principles forbade internet service providers from intentionally blocking or slowing down or charging money for specific websites and online content – will now affect my mobile phone’s performance, speed, access etc and have only found some previously documented real examples of what ISP’s and cellular service providers in both WIFI mode and cellular mode tried to get away with in the past:
“AT&T was….. caught limiting access to FaceTime, so only those users who paid for AT&T’s new shared data plans could access the application.[12] In July 2017, Verizon Wireless was accused of throttling after users noticed that videos played on Netflix and YouTube were slower than usual ….”
So I expect most ISP’s and cellular service companies will go back to these sorts of shenanigans, but my real question is, are you aware of any requirement for these companies to notify their wiFi & cellular service customers in new terms and conditions documentation of what changes to expect? Actually It would be very helpful if there could be a chart that identifies by provider changes to access and or limits to access, speeds etc based on what plan you have purchased. I’m a TFW user on an ATT sim and have gone blind deciphering the T’s & C’s. I’m really worried that my ‘LINE’ app that allows me to have a FREE FaceTime like phone call with my friend from Japan will get turned off by TFW or ATT. Any news out their that you can share?

I’d also like to know if carrier updates would be the methodology used by WiFi and cellular service providers to put into effect limits, throttling of network speeds etc to support the rescinding of the old net neutrality standards.

Sorry for the long delay in my reply. This is a good question and it is difficult to answer. I’m not sure I am the best person to answer these questions either but I’ll share my opinion.

I am not aware of any planned changes to Straight Talk or any of the other Tracfone brand services with respect to the net neutrality changes. Keep in mind those that, any changes could be imposed not only by tracfone but the underlying wireless network used (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint).

I don’t expect your LINE service to be blocked in the short or long term. Long term, it’s possible for the underlying carriers to pressure Line and other companies to pay them for carrying their traffic. I’m skeptical though because the carriers have already gone the route of blocking services like this on cell data and relented. It’s also would be a very visible change to consumers attracting unnecessary attention.

With other services, it’s easier for carriers to pick preferred services for music and video streaming and zero rate the data required so that required data is included with that service rather than counting against you plan’s data budget. The underlying carriers will also pressure those services to pay for the data they use.

As for Terms & Conditions and disclosures, I’m skeptical we’ll get better disclosures, any time soon. These network settings are complicated and subject to change far more frequently than the wireless carriers can update T&C’s that would require technical, marketing, and legal departments to update. Not only is this time consuming, but requires each entity to understand the details and translate into language they understand and meeting their requirements. So example, the use of the word, “unlimited” causes Straight Talk all sorts of problems. In theory, these companies were currently regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and now data services would be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

As for enforcement, I’d expect that any changes to control, priortize, or limit service will take place on the network itself rather than on the device. It’s possible to adjust some of these settings in iOS Carrier updates (bundles) but it’s not the best method. I know in the past T-Mobile used the carrier bundles to restrict overall speed and access to LTE bands / spectrum. There was a guy that used to hack those bundles for T-Mobile customers. You used to be able install them yourself, but later iOS changes forced you to jailbreak. Again, I don’t see these being widely used as a method to control or limit the changes related to the repeal of net neutrality. If your an iOS user trying to avoid these updates isn’t practical as they are included in iOS updates. For me, I’d never jailbreak my iPhone as I consider that a huge security risk, not knowing who or what changes were made to my firmware.

While I don’t want to get political here, but the best way to solve this problem is to vote for candidates that support net neutrality or appoint an FCC chairman that advocates for consumers. The one change that really personally irritates me is that many of the communications companies have successfully lobbied to prevent communities from creating municipal broadband or wireless networks. As a consumer, you can also vote with your dollars and not support services that enforce such restrictions, even when that means going without.

Thanks for the question, I’ll continue to update this post over 2018, but I wanted to get you a response.

4 Comments

  1. Eric Johnson | | Reply

    It’s the first day of the repeal of net neutrality and my phone is running alot slower than normal. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    • Bob Thompson | | Reply

      Well assuming you are using prepaid wireless, what do you think is being slowed down and what is being prioritized?

  2. Rick Hendrix | | Reply

    Net Neutrality is necessary because we are in 21st century and all work now done with the usage of Internet, companies are thinking It is good we also need to think and act smart.

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