Legislation seeks to regulate ISP data caps

Legislation introduced Dec. 20 in the Senate would give the Federal Communications Commission power to regulate Internet Service Provider data caps to ensure they manage network congestion and require ISPs to equip consumers with tools to monitor their data usage.

The Data Cap Integrity Act, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), would ensure consumers are given tools to manage their data usage. It also would set up industry-wide data measurement accuracy standards for ISPs and take steps to make sure ISP data caps are designed to measure network congestion.

“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. “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.”

The act would require an ISP that plans to impose a data cap to accurately measure the data usage of individual consumers and ensure the cap “effectively manages network congestion without unnecessarily discouraging Internet use.”

It also prevents ISPs from discriminating against the source or content of data for measuring data usage and requires consumers have adequate tools to monitor and control data usage.

A statement from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) brands the legislation as “ill-conceived.” According to NCTA, the bill “ignores the substantial pro-consumer benefits of usage-based pricing.”

“While congestion management may be one effect of tiered pricing, the primary benefits are consumer choice and fairness,” the statement said.

However, Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group, praised Wyden’s legislation.

"Data caps can create an artificial scarcity in the broadband market that limits consumer choice and hinders the creation of new competitive content online. Public Knowledge supports Sen. Wyden's effort to provide consumers with transparency on their data usage and to ensure that these caps do not limit innovative products and uses on the Internet,” said Public Knowledge VP of Government Affairs Christopher Lewis in a statement published on the group’s website.