A U.S. senator has introduced legislation that limits the ability of broadband providers to impose data caps on customers.
The Data Measurement Integrity Act, introduced Thursday by Senator Ron Wyden, would require ISPs to first accurately measure customers' data use before imposing data caps. There is "mounting evidence" that some ISPs are not accurately measuring their customers' data use, Wyden said in a statement.
The bill would allow ISPs to deploy data caps only to manage network congestion without "unnecessarily" discouraging Internet use. It would require the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to establish data measurement tools used by ISPs and to certify the tools they deploy.
The legislation would also prohibit ISPs from discriminating against the source of the data when measuring it, and it would require ISPs to offer customers data measurement tools they can use.
"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, an Oregon Democrat, said in a statement. "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."
Wyden criticized proposed "sweetheart deals" between ISPs and content providers so that some content doesn't count against data caps. Early this year, Comcast proposed to exempt streaming video on Microsoft xBox devices from its data cap, but later suspended its data cap after criticism.
Wyden offered the legislation in the last days of this session of Congress, with little chance of the bill passing. He would have to reintroduce the bill next year for it to move forward then.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable providers, called Wyden's bill "ill-conceived." The bill ignores the "substantial pro-consumer benefits of usage-based pricing," the group said in a statement.
Tiered pricing is common in many industries, the group said.
"While congestion management may be one effect of tiered pricing, the primary benefits are consumer choice and fairness," the NCTA added. "Usage tiers give consumers more choices to better fit their bandwidth needs, and they rightly distinguish between low-volume users and high-volume users as is true for many products and services."
The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, a think tank that has questioned data caps, praised the legislation.
Data caps serve "little purpose other than to raise the already high profit margins of broadband providers," Benjamin Lennett, policy director of the institute, said in a statement.
The institute called U.S. policy makers to work for more broadband competition.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.