First U.S. LTE plans could be bad news, say consumer groups

Advocacy groups Free Press, Media Access Project, and New America Foundation sent a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday regarding the policies of MetroPCS, the nation's fifth-largest wireless operator, and the first one to activate its LTE 4G network. The groups complain MetroPCS' new "unlimited" wireless broadband service plans fall through loopholes in the FCC's new net neutrality plans, and could set a precedent for unfair content blocking.

Last week, MetroPCS unveiled new 4G LTE service plans which cost $40, $50, or $60 dollars. Each of the plans offers unlimited talk, text, and 4G Web browsing, but then the company puts up vague content barriers without defining what the usage cases are, and what consumers have access to.

"This is exactly the way we expected carriers to 'test' the FCC's resolve with respect to wireless network neutrality," The Media Access Project's Senior Vice President and Policy director Jay Schwarzman said Tuesday. "Unless the Commission responds decisively, MetroPCS' competitors are likely to follow suit."

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The group's letter to the FCC cites MetroPCS' terms and conditions:

"We shall determine in our sole discretion what data usage constitutes Data Access and reserve the right to alter, make additions to or deletions to what type of data usage, or protocols, constitute Data Access without notification to you. Data Access may include, for example, multimedia streaming and video on demand services, as well as certain multimedia uploads, downloads and gaming services and applications."

The organization says that this gives MetroPCS the power to decide what constitutes "Data Access," and could result in users on certain tiers being blocked from certain sites and services despite the fact that they're lawful to access.

"MetroPCS's practices are particularly problematic because, as the company itself recognizes, it disproportionately serves lower-income subscribers, the same audience that is increasingly relying on mobile access to the Web," said Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley. "A walled garden in mobile broadband leaves a large number of Internet users on the wrong side of the digital divide."

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