New America Accuses T-Mobile Of Wanting Internet ‘HOV Lane’

Jan 30, 2024

Washington, D.C., Jan. 30, 2024 – A left-leaning D.C. think tank says T-Mobile is trying to establish a pay-to-play scheme on the Internet that the wireless carrier hopes to shield from Net Neutrality rules incubating at the Federal Communications Commission.

“T-Mobile has essentially proposed a wholesale exemption from the open Internet rules for any specialized application or service that a mobile carrier delivers through ‘network slicing,’” said Michael Calabrese, Director, Wireless Future, at New America’s Open Technology Institute, in a Jan. 29 filing with the FCC.

Calabrese said while government should encourage T-Mobile’s effort to bring innovative specialized services to the market, it should not allow T-Mobile to define these services so broadly that they escape open Internet protections, such as the ban on paid prioritization.

In describing the services that T-Mobile wants exempted, Calabrese referred to them as “the equivalent of an HOV lane” designed to sell priority treatment “to mostly deep-pocketed edge providers.”

One example he gave was that T-Mobile could use a network slice to receive payment to provide prioritized “video conferencing or video streaming service that runs over the shared [Broadband Internet Access Service] network alongside competing video conferencing or streaming services that do not pay for prioritization.”

Based in Washington, D.C., New America (formerly the New America Foundation) is partly funded by multimillion donations by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, and the Biden Administration’s State Department.

The FCC’s proposed Net Neutrality rules include a ban on ISPs’ receiving payment in exchange for prioritizing traffic. But the agency is likely to include a carve out for specialized services, including network slicing, that are not generally available to all Internet users. Examples include heart monitors, energy consumption sensors, and limited-purpose devices such as automobile telematics.

In a Dec. 14, 2023 filing with the FCC, T-Mobile described network slicing as the “customized creation of software-defined, virtual networks - or ‘slices’ – that are each logically separated and individually optimized to meet the specific needs of each application.”

Reliance on network slicing on a single 5G network can “support a small number of robots on a factory floor, while at the same time delivering low-intensity network resources to a very large number of meter-reading sensors on a utility network,” T-Mobile said.

T-Mobile, based in Bellevue, Washington, is the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier with 119.7 million subscribers at the end of 2023.

Though supportive of wireless innovation, Calabrese said the FCC should not permit T-Mobile to “claim that anything a mobile carrier labels as a ‘slice’ of its network should by definition be treated as a non-(Broadband Internet Access Service) data service and be exempt from Network Neutrality protections.”