The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday said it would ban paid satellite radio service providers from the Uncarrier program, saying the move could have a negative impact on consumers and hamper the efforts of carriers to build a market for affordable wireless services.
Under the program, carriers must offer affordable wireless service to consumers, and pay a fee to their own network operators to cover the costs of providing those services.
The FCC voted 3-2 to ban pay-for-play services in the program last year.
It has repeatedly been criticized by consumer advocates for allowing pay-to-play companies to reap benefits from the program without giving consumers a fair shake.
The decision to ban paid services from the network operator program is the first time the FCC has ruled that paid satellite services are not covered by the program.
It was a surprise move that had not been anticipated by the carriers or their lobbyists.
The move to bar paid services comes as the FCC considers how to implement rules to prevent broadband providers from charging customers more to access their networks.
The FCC has said it will seek to reinstate paid services by 2018, but many experts are skeptical that will happen.
The companies in question include AT&T, Verizon, and Charter Communications, along with several smaller competitors, such as Dish Network and Comcast.
The carriers say they have been fighting against pay-per-play practices for years.
In 2016, AT&am, the country’s second-largest cable company, sued Comcast to stop it from using the network operators program to subsidize its video services.
That suit was settled in 2016.
The telecom industry has said the program has allowed carriers to avoid the cost of providing high-speed internet to their customers and to avoid paying for the equipment and network infrastructure needed to deploy and maintain those networks.
But some consumer advocates say the program benefits only a small segment of the internet market and that it harms consumers by limiting the ability of smaller players to build networks and offer cheaper services.
In recent months, the FCC, which is led by Republican Ajit Pai, has taken a number of steps to reduce competition and support small and midsize internet service providers.