AT&T decided not to pursue an appeal in a court case related to its data throttling practices, a move which effectively solidifies US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) oversight of telecoms.
An operator representative told Mobile World Live AT&T chose not to appeal the case to the Supreme Court and will instead focus on “negotiating a fair resolution of the case with the Federal Trade Commission”. The representative did not explain AT&T’s reasoning behind the decision or what it would consider an acceptable settlement.
In 2014, the FTC filed a lawsuit claiming the operator slowed the data speeds of customers on unlimited plans without sufficiently disclosing its practices to users. AT&T, however, argued it was not subject to FTC enforcement action, claiming regulation of telecoms with so-called “common carrier” status was solely in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
After an initial ruling in AT&T’s favour in August 2016, a federal appeals court ultimately came down on the FTC’s side in February. AT&T originally said it planned to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Net neutrality impact
In addition to allowing the FTC to seek relief for impacted customers, AT&T’s decision to seek a settlement has implications for net neutrality, ensuring the FTC will have the authority to regulate broadband providers.
The FCC repealed its own net neutrality regulations in December 2017, with the understanding that the FTC would step in to police internet providers. But a ruling for the operator would have effectively stripped the FTC of its oversight powers over telecoms, leaving an enforcement loophole for providers.
Following the FTC’s court victory in February, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the ruling a “win for American consumers” which would ensure the FTC could regulate internet service providers after the FCC’s repeal order took effect.