AT&T to count HBO Max for data caps, blames net neutrality law


John stankey

Stephen Desaulniers | CNBC

AT&T will no longer exempt viewers of its HBO Max streaming service from data limits after a federal court upheld California’s net neutrality law, the company said in a statement Wednesday.

The company informed customers that it would no longer offer “Data Free TV” in its video applications as of March 25, according to a copy of the customer notice obtained by CNBC. That means clients must be connected to WiFi to prevent their transmission from counting towards their total data limits. The change will extend beyond California, as, according to AT&T, “The Internet does not recognize state lines.”

The announcement highlights a key concern the industry has with state actions affecting the Internet sector. As with digital privacy laws, which currently only exist in a couple of states, the tech industry fears that a patchwork of state laws will make it difficult to operate, especially for smaller players.

“A state-by-state approach to ‘net neutrality’ is unfeasible,” AT&T said in a statement announcing the data cap change. “A patchwork of state regulations, many of them too restrictive, creates obstacles to creative and consumer-friendly solutions.”

Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers should act neutral with respect to the content they host and refrain from speeding up or limiting the delivery speeds of certain sites or services. Under California law, which a federal judge said last month could be legally enforced, AT&T said it is not allowed to “sponsor” data for customers who also use its wireless services.

California’s net neutrality law came in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to roll back an Obama-era net neutrality rule at the Federal Communications Commission. The old rule installed the principle of net neutrality by reinterpreting Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 so that Internet service providers were considered common operators subject to greater regulation.

AT&T said it “has long been committed to the principles of an open Internet” and urged Congress to enact federal laws to make it easy and affordable for Americans to access the Internet “while providing clear net neutrality rules, consistent and permanent so that everyone can follow. “

-CNBC’s Steve Kopack contributed to this report.

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