American telco giant AT&T doesn’t want to charge femtocell users twice for the same data, but exempting its customers from the second bill could fall foul of US Network Neutrality, says the Public Knowledge blog, which has demanded an FCC investigation into "data cap abuse".
Femtocells are tiny base stations which route cellular connections over domestic broadband to extend coverage, but that generally results in customers paying twice for the data: once to their cellular network and once to their broadband provider, so AT&T decided that customers buying both services from AT&T should only be charged once, which is where Net Neutrality kicks in.
The problem is that if you have a femtocell from Verizon or Sprint then you do have to pay twice for the bandwidth, and that's not neutral - which is why Public Knowledge is calling for an FCC investigation.
It's not that customers actually pay for the bandwidth directly, it's just deducted from your monthly cap or not, which is effectively the same as paying for it. This means data used by an AT&T femtocell on AT&T's U-Verse broadband is only deducted from the cellular cap and not from the fixed-line cap, as would normally be the case.
Back when femtocells were first proposed it was assumed that punters would refuse to pay twice, and that, combined with quality of service issues, would limit deployments to customers who got their fixed and mobile from the same supplier. But cheap broadband made customers less sensitive, while increased capacity made quality-of-service issues disappear, to the point where femtocell users pay so little they don't mind paying twice.
But the amount of money isn't relevant to Net Neutrality, which requires packets to be treated equally and is a matter of principle, and - at least in the USA - a matter of law, as Public Knowledge points out. ®