The Dallas-based telecom company charges other content providers if they wish to be a part of its "Sponsored Data" program and exempt from data caps, but doesn't charge its own affiliate, according to Business Insider. This practice of allowing customers to use certain applications or view specified videos without charging data, called zero-rating, could be hindering competition and "may harm the open Internet, such as preferring [its] own or affiliated content [and] demanding fees from edge providers," the FCC said in its letter, citing the Open Internet Order.
The FCC is challenging one of AT&T's main reasons for acquiring DirecTV in the first place: being able to provide bundles of products to its customers without additional costs.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in 2014 that the deal with DirecTV provided "a unique opportunity that will redefine the video entertainment industry and create a company able to offer new bundles and deliver content to consumers across multiple screens - mobile decides, TVs, laptops, cars and even airplanes."
The company might also be looking to offer customers similar data deals with content from media and entertainment company Time Warner (TWX) , which AT&T agreed to acquire for $85.4 billion in October, said Eric Jhonsa, TheStreet's technology reporter.
"One big question, of course, is whether the FCC's stance will stay the same after [President-elect Donald] Trump (a net neutrality opponent) takes office," Jhonsa noted.