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MetroPCS accused of, sued for net neutrality violations

The most remarkable aspect of the new LTE plans from MetroPCS isn’t that they’re the first 4G smartphone plans in the country. Rather, it’s the way that the company limits internet access by tier. Basically, if you’re getting a 4G Android you have to get the most expensive plan, at $60, or else your experience will be quite limited, since the lower tiers include unlimited browsing, not unlimited data. Earlier in the week consumer groups sent a letter to the FCC, urging them to take action against these tiered internet plans. Since then the situation has developed a bit further.

A day later it was reported that these consumer groups have sued MetroPCS over the issue. I’m not sure how far this case will go, but filing legal action is certainly one way to catch the attention of the FCC. MetroPCS has responded, too:

“The complaints about our new, pro-consumer, pro-competitive 4G LTE rate plans are erroneous. We continue to offer consumers a full service, unlimited data plan. We increased consumer choice by adding two new rate plans that are less expensive and enable consumers to select the service and content they want at a price point they can afford. These new rate plans comply with the FCC’s new rules on open mobile Internet.”

In a way, this makes sense. MetroPCS could just as easily have set once price point, the $60 unlimited everything, and left it at that. But they did include two less expensive plans. It’s not as though they have an obligation to offer unlimited services at any given price point. In other words, they don’t have to provide their $40 or $50 plans at all.

While the consumer groups do have a point — tiered pricing such as this could open the flood gates — I fear that if the FCC does step in, it will only eliminate those two cheaper plans. That would hurt the very lower-income customers these consumer groups purport to protect. MetroPCS has every right to price its offerings as it sees fit, and $60 for unlimited everything on a 4G network seems perfectly reasonable. If they want to include a couple of lower-tier offerings, then that is one way to get their services to more subscribers.