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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday afternoon announced the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is officially closing its investigation into sponsored data and zero-rated offerings from wireless carriers.

In a statement, Pai cited the programs’ popularity among consumers – particularly those in low-income brackets – and their tendency to enhance competition in the wireless marketplace as attributes.

“Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data,” Pai commented. “Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”

The news comes on the heels of a report issued by the Bureau last month that found AT&T and Verizon’s sponsored data offers violated the Commission’s Open Internet Order. At the time, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said AT&T's “Sponsored Data” program and Verizon's “FreeBee Data 360” program were determined to pose “significant risks to consumers and competition.” Two other programs under investigation, which included T-Mobile’s Binge On service, were found to be in compliance with the net neutrality rules.

According to Pai, the investigation’s closure is part of an effort to undo what he called “midnight regulations” pushed through in the final days of Wheeler’s administration.

“In the waning days of the last Administration, the Federal Communications Commission's Bureaus and Offices released a series of controversial orders and reports. In some cases, Commissioners were given no advance notice whatsoever of these midnight regulations. In other cases, they were issued over the objection of two of the four Commissioners. And in all cases, their release ran contrary to the wishes expressed by the leadership of our congressional oversight committees,” Pai said. “These last-minute actions, which did not enjoy the support of the majority of Commissioners at the time they were taken, should not bind us going forward.  Accordingly, they are being revoked.”  

Commissioner Michael O’Rielly applauded Pai’s efforts, saying the FCC’s pull back on zero-rating would allow carriers to “introduce highly popular products and services without fear of Commission intervention.”

However, lone Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn took issue with the change of direction.

“Today multiple Bureaus retract—without a shred of explanation—several items released under the previous administration that focus on competition, consumer protection, cybersecurity, and other issues core to the FCC’s mission,” Clyburn said in a statement. “It is a basic principle of administrative procedure that actions must be accompanied by reasons for that action, else that action is unlawful. Yet that is exactly what multiple Bureaus have done today.”

“It is disappointing to see this Chairman engage in the same actions for which he criticized the prior Chairman,” she continued. “I am hopeful that in the future this Commission, consistent with our shared commitment to increased transparency, will heed the APA’s requirement for reasoned decision-making.”

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