Federal appeals court dismisses AT&T data throttling case

[JURIST – Taylor Isaac] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Monday dismissed [text, PDF] a 2014 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] case against AT&T Mobile [corporate website], which took issue with AT&T’s disclosures regarding the reduction of a customer’s data speed [Reuters report]. The process, known as “data throttling,” involves an Internet service provider (ISP) slowing data speed once customers reach a certain usage threshold. The FTC claimed AT&T was deceptive and did not notify customers that this would occur, alleging that speeds were reduced by almost 90 percent in some cases. However, the court of appeals found that these claims could not hold up under the FTC Act due to an exemption for “common carriers.” The FTC expressed their dissatisfaction with the result but have not stated whether they will appeal.

The dismissal does not necessarily mean AT&T is in the clear. In June 2015 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] proposed a $100 million fine [JURIST report] for AT&T’s actions. AT&T challenged the fine, but it is not out of the question. More generally, the way ISPs manage customers’ access speed is an issue the FCC began addressing within the last couple of years through net neutrality regulations [JURIST backgrounders]. In June the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] upheld [JURIST report] the net neutrality regulations designed to ensure an open Internet. JURIST Guest Columnist Allen Hammond [official profile] of the Santa Clara Law School [official website] discussed the recent net neutrality ruling and what it means for the future of the internet [JURIST op-ed]. In November 2014 US President Barack Obama said [statement] that he strongly supports the concept of net neutrality.

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