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A Very Common Carrier


If only my laser vision was working.
AT&T today won a major victory over the Federal Trade Commission, which was trying to punish AT&T for throttling the Internet connections of customers with unlimited data plans.

The FTC sued AT&T in October 2014, seeking refunds for customers who paid for unlimited data. The FTC said AT&T deceived customers by offering unlimited data plans and then throttling speeds once customers hit certain usage thresholds, such as 3GB or 5GB in a month. In response, AT&T claimed that the FTC had no jurisdiction over AT&T because of the company's status as a common carrier.

This argument was complicated. At the time, AT&T was a common carrier for landline phone and mobile voice service, but not for mobile Internet access. The Federal Communications Commission later reclassified mobile Internet as a common carrier service, which put it under a stricter FCC regime but exempted AT&T from FTC oversight.
The FTC argued that it could punish AT&T for transgressions related to non-common carrier services, including actions related to mobile Internet access before AT&T was reclassified. Last year, a US District Court judge in California sided with the FTC, saying that “the common carrier exception applies only where the entity has the status of common carrier and is actually engaging in common carrier activity.”
AT&T appealed that decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which today issued a decision in AT&T’s favor (full text). Appeals court judges had to decide whether the common carrier exception applies to all activity by AT&T or whether it applies only to activities related to one of AT&T's common carrier services.
This is what happens when judges don't understand technology. It's ridiculous to use rules written for one type of technology and apply them haphazard to another. But it's a convenient excuse if that was the decision you wanted in the first place. 

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