Departing FCC chair Tom Wheeler told the Washington Post's Brian Fung that wireless carriers dragged their heels in an inquiry into whether free data programs violated net neutrality:
Along the way there was a little thing called an election. And the companies, as a result of the election, understood that they didn't have to pay attention to [the inquiry]. So yes, they wrote us responses. We asked specific questions. And yes, they sent us [paperwork] back, but they assiduously did NOT answer the questions. —Tom Wheeler
The reality: In two days, Congress and the FCC both get a chance to start the process of rolling back the commission's net neutrality rules, so the FCC's report slamming AT&T and Verizon for their free data offerings has limited shelf life.
The bigger picture: Programs that don't charge customers for data when they use a certain service — called "zero-rating" — are a big business opportunity for wireless carriers. It's a way to drive customers to the content businesses they own and bring in additional revenue from advertisers. AT&T declined to comment. Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.