TELECOMS OPERATOR AT&T has sparked a row with media reformists Free Press over its stance on net neutrality.
In a letter to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), AT&T tried to rubbish points made by the group, calling them "not exactly true". The argument revolves around the notion of "paid prioritisation" of Internet connectivity, something that net neutrality activists are fiercely against.
AT&T claims that the Free Press, in supporting Diffserv, is in direct contradiction to its support of equal packet rights. Diffserv is one of a number of mechanisms proposed to provide differing quality of service (QoS), though typically it is run on customers' routers.
The telecom behemoth argues that paid prioritisation will not create an Internet 'rich club', saying that small to medium businesses voluntarily take AT&T up on the offer. However the fact that a few firms purchase managed connectivity from AT&T doesn't really change the fact that applying such policies at the network core is something that will concern the majority of users. Judging by the lengths to which AT&T goes to promote it, those fears won't be allayed any time soon.
Aside from the letter to the FCC, Hank Hultquist of AT&T came out all guns blazing on its Public Policy Blog, saying "Yet now Free Press seems to suggest that ISPs would restrict prioritization to only a few 'deep-pocketed Internet giants.' While I enjoy the Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories as much as the next blogger, I do expect at least some superficial consistency."
AT&T labeling Free Press as conspiracy theorists like Dan Brown savours involved in a plot considerably thicker than any of his novels smacks of desperation. Not surprisingly, Free Press said that AT&T's letter was "a confusing and misleading letter [to] the FCC in an attempt to justify charging content companies for priority access to its Internet subscribers."
In a rebuttal, S Derek Turner, research director of Free Press said, "Paid prioritization is the antithesis of openness, and any regulatory framework that does not prohibit such arrangements as harmful to consumers and competition would not be real net neutrality, but fake net neutrality brought to you by AT&T."
Those harsh words are not all that surprising given the language used by AT&T, calling statements made by the Free Press "grossly inaccurate" and urging the FCC to "reject calls from Free Press and others to ban or significantly restrict the provision of paid prioritization services". Apparently regulating net neutrality will harm "innovation and growth" and go against the interests of businesses regardless of size, according to AT&T.
This particular argument boils down to the fact that AT&T and its competitors want to be able to sell 'parts of the pipe' to customers, allowing them to charge more for Internet access and content delivery. Last year the FCC banned paid prioritisation so it's not surprising to see AT&T try to pull a fast one to get the ban overturned.
AT&T's claims that net neutrality would harm innovation and growth comes weeks after it called net neutrality oppressive. Indeed, it will impose constraints on firms that want to divvy up the bandwidth pie and flog the pieces for more than they can charge for the whole.
One has to wonder why AT&T and the big ISPs like Verizon are lobbying so hard to ensure that net neutrality doesn't happen. After all, they're the incumbent carriers who are most likely to benefit from stable regulatory rules for the Internet, so if there's not much in it for them to oppose setting some standards, why bother? µ
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