Is AT&T Siding With NBC To Get Rid Of Neutrality?

from the there's-an-explanation dept

I tend to be skeptical when people start screaming "net neutrality" when it's not warranted, but here's a situation where it may be worth asking a few questions. We've been wondering for some time why AT&T would agree to help NBC try to block the transfer of any unauthorized content on its network. It made very little sense at the time. AT&T (in its previous versions) had actually been one of the big proponents of the "safe harbor" clause in the DMCA that meant it didn't need to police the content on its own network. So why would it suddenly, voluntarily, be saying it wants to spend time, money and energy in an impossible effort to police the content shared across its own network?

A clue may be found in an MPAA FCC filing over the summer, where it spoke stridently against any network neutrality rules, for fear that such rules might make it impossible for ISPs to police content -- something the MPAA has been pushing for over the last few months, resulting in the recent PRO IP bill (which is actually very anti IP, but that's a different story). Basically, the MPAA (mainly NBC Universal) was offering up a compromise plan to the telcos: you support us by policing your network and we'll support you in trying to double charge popular websites.

With that said, it should come as no surprise that NBC Universal and AT&T are now acting like best buddies as they discuss plans for filters. Lobbyists from both companies were at CES saying typically misleading things. AT&T's James Cicconi talked about how what was being done to stop piracy wasn't enough -- but fails to note that it's not his problem. Legally. Legally, AT&T shouldn't even get close to trying to police its own network, as it actually opens the company up to more liability. But, in its greed to be able to set up extra tollbooths, the company appears to recognize that using "piracy" as an excuse for blocking is a way in the backdoor, potentially even around the very promises AT&T made to keep the net neutral for 30 months in order to get approval to buy BellSouth.

The statement from NBC Universal is even worse -- but not at all surprising, coming from the man, Rick Cotton, who gave us the easily proven false statement about how piracy was hurting the poor corn farmers of America (who aren't hurting at all, and on whom piracy has no impact). When it was pointed out to Cotton that blocking content could be legally questionable, his response wasn't to address the actual concerns over filtering, but to go with the ever creative defense of throwing up his hands in frustration: "The volume of peer-to-peer traffic online, dominated by copyrighted materials, is overwhelming. That clearly should not be an acceptable, continuing status." Yes, because as long as the threats to your obsolete business model are "overwhelming," no one else's rights matter in the slightest. It's similar to Doug Morris at sister company Universal Music. Basically: "we're too clueless to recognize that the market has changed and that we need to adjust our business models -- so instead, we will demand that everyone else change in an attempt to keep the world the way it was a decade ago." Back here in the real world, those strategies tend not to work, though they can cause plenty of damage in the short term.

About the only good news concerning all of this is that when asked to join them, Apple told AT&T and NBC Universal to get stuffed. Microsoft, on the other hand, joined right up to help. What we're witnessing is a collaboration among companies too short-sighted to recognize how the market is changing, who will team up to pretend to bolster each other's outdated business model. Hopefully, if Congress and the FCC don't make it impossible, the rest of the world will simply route around them and build the new business models for tomorrow. Still, with the FCC potentially cracking down on Comcast's efforts at traffic shaping, it'll be fascinating to see how the FCC responds to AT&T being even more proactive in blocking content. Given Kevin Martin's earlier statements about ignoring AT&T net neutrality promises combined with his close relationship with the telcos, somehow we get the feeling they won't face very much pressure.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Professionally Minded, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 1:55pm

    They don't get it.

    What they don't seem to understand is people will pay for software and videos if it's deemed worth of the money. I personally like having DVDs on my shelf to watch and prefer not owning burned DVDs IF they are worth the money asked for them.

    Point being they won't make any more money if they try to curb pirating. The people who pirate their stuff only watch it because it's free. If it cost money to watch then they just won't watch it. Pirated movies have before compelled me to buy the DVD after all or the software after all when I found out how good it was.

    Someone has been doped into thinking piracy is lost revenue when infact if done right it can be the largest free marketing and advertisement tool they'll ever get to have.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 1:59pm

    Told you so

    I tend to be skeptical when people start screaming "net neutrality" when it's not warranted, but here's a situation where it may be worth asking a few questions.

    You've been naive. And it's going to get much worse if people don't "scream" about it, as you put it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Haywood, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 2:14pm

    Likely scenario, people leave AT&T

    If I had a choice of carriers, and the one I was using started traffic shaping, I'd drop them like a hot potato.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Andrew, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Likely scenario, people leave AT&T

    That is a pretty large IF.

    Most places have 2 choices, DSL or Cable, so your either with Comcast or AT&T.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Haywood, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 2:39pm

    Re: Re: Likely scenario, people leave AT&T

    I have no choice where I live, Verizon DSL or dial-up. However, more progressive communities within 30 miles have many choices, I just chose wrong.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Likely scenario, people leave AT&T

    I have no choice where I live, Verizon DSL or dial-up. However, more progressive communities within 30 miles have many choices, I just chose wrong.

    What did you choose wrong, where to live? There are many countries that have better internet access than the US.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    DittoBox, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 4:04pm

    Re: Told you so

    Please explain why you think screaming is warranted. So far Mike and the TechDirt crew have done a decent job of setting forth their opinions with some good logical grounds to it (though I don't always agree) yet most of NN folk just, as he put it, scream about it alarmist style.

    And then their's the carriers who just don't even tell anything remotely close to the truth in their arguments (as if we could lend enough weight to their rantings to even call them arguments). Don't even get me started there.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Lady, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 4:26pm

    Bad idea

    This is a bad idea, because once you start policing the net or anything of that matter you are opening up the flood gates for more resections.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 4:28pm

    Genie Back in the Bottle

    Many old-line industries such as Hollywood, the record companies and the telcos have been looking for a way to put the internet genie back in the bottle. This may be it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Joe Smith, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 5:24pm

    Spam

    If the SOBs have the technical ability to filter traffic and discriminate in a targetted way then why am I still inundated with spam?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 5:25pm

    Re: Re: Told you so

    Please explain why you think screaming is warranted.

    I actually don't think it's "screaming". That's why I put it in quotes and noted that it was actually Mike's characterization, not mine.

    So far Mike and the TechDirt crew have done a decent job of setting forth their opinions with some good logical grounds to it (though I don't always agree) yet most of NN folk just, as he put it, scream about it alarmist style.

    Denigrating supporters of network neutrality as "screamers" isn't exactly based on "good logical grounds", in my opinion. In fact, your own post seems much more like "screaming" to me.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 8:16pm

    Great way for them to waste even more money

    Supposedly this will work by looking for "digital fingerprints". How will it tell the difference between a legally purchased MP3 file from Amazon and the same file being shared on P2P networks? What if a user sets up a net connection between his home system and the computer at the office to legally transfer his own files? Will it scan for every file format that a work can exist in? (MP3, OGG, APE, Flac, WMA, RA, AVI, WMV, RM, MOV, MKV, etc) How will it scan for content in multi-volume Rar archives? What if the files are encrypted? How do they plan to avoid being sued by every content owner whose work they fail to filter?

    Sure, let's spend millions of dollars researching and implementing a system that will be about as effective at stopping internet piracy as CSS was at preventing DVD copying.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Not So Mindless American, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 12:25am

    Re: Spam

    Because the spammers are probably paying the SOB's to put their shite through.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    pixelm, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 10:44am

    "Yes, because as long as the threats to your obsolete business model are "overwhelming," no one else's rights matter in the slightest"

    I'm sorry, this isn't a problem wtih a business model, it is a problem with THEFT. People (encouraged by folks like you) are being told that "stealing is ok" and that stopping it is stepping on their rights. Kind of like complaining about the police stopping people for speeding - yes it limits your right to speed, but people are safer for it. Laws (and etiquette) are about drawing a balance between doing what you please and hurting other people by doing it. Where is the balance in your post? Do creators have any rights in your worldview?

    You're wrong that it's "just" a business model problem. A true business model problem comes up in an orderly market where consumers express their preferences by choosing what to buy. Prefer VoD to DVD - just buy VoD and providers will offer more. Prices will adjust to reflect supply and demand. DVD retailers may die and VoD providers flourish. That's a market and a change in business model.

    P2P is theft, pure and simple. It UNDERMINES consumers ability to express their preferences through markets. Why download through VoD if the product is free? And if it's free - then it doesn't get made any more. Free-riding works for a while - but as with any parasite- too much parasitic behavior and not only the host dies - so does the parasite. And don't come back with "everyone will watch 3 minute videos made on low cost camcorders". That's a new form of media and lots of people watch it all the time. But consumers who watch YouTube are ALSO watching lots of TV and Movies and reading books and have tremendous interest in professional media too. What about their rights to have these forms of content created for their benefit?

    There are a lot of folks who like to call it promotion (I'd like to try that at the bank - let me take some money and i'll like money more so it's good for the bank); folks who say stopping theft is stopping innovation (innovation in theft, maybe; STOPPING theft helps innovation in programming); folks who say detecting theft is trampling on their rights (their right to steal). But your post allows NADA for the rights of artists, musicians, photographers, etc. etc. who have their work stolen every day. Tell me what they CAN do to protect themselves from theft, and you'll have more credibility then simply objecting to anything they do to protect their rights because it "infringes" on users "rights" to simply do what they want because they can.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    MaxB312, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 11:02am

    The FCC Won't Do A Thing

    Of course the FCC won't do anything to regulate AT&T - they never have in the past, no matter how egregious the infraction. Heaven forbid Martin do anything to upset his AT&T handlers.

    If Kevin Martin wanted to prove that he had the consumers' interest at heart - as he tries to do at every turn - he would treat ISPs equally and allow them to do what's needed to bring the best possible service to their customers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 11:12am

    Re: Great way for them to waste even more money

    Supposedly this will work by looking for "digital fingerprints".

    They won't go to that much trouble. They'll just all block file sharing. The only people able to send out files will be those on commercial accounts "approved" to do so. It'll turn the internet into something they can control like cable TV where about all you can do is "view websites" like you "watch channels". The really sad part is that a lot people won't see anything wrong with that because that's all they want to do anyway.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 11:52am

    Re:

    P2P is theft, pure and simple.
    What a sad, sad, little liar you are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2008 @ 2:00pm

    Re:

    Hi Pixelm,

    Would you like to state who you work for? I can see it via the IP address, and it's quite telling. But I won't reveal it. I just think it would put your comments in much more perspective.

    I'm sorry, this isn't a problem wtih a business model, it is a problem with THEFT.

    This is simply untrue. First of all, I don't know how many times I need to repeat the difference between theft and infringement, but it's important to understand.

    Either way, though, it absolutely is a business model issue. See: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20080109/013441.shtml everything that folks in your industry have called "piracy" has always actually opened up new business opportunities, despite your predecessors fighting it.

    People (encouraged by folks like you) are being told that "stealing is ok" and that stopping it is stepping on their rights.

    Are you new around here? I have been quite explicit that infringement is NOT ok (and, it's not stealing either, but that's different). I am focused on helping folks like your employer stop suing its best customers, advertisers and distribution channels and showing them how they can make more money. It has nothing to do with encouraging unauthorized usage.

    Laws (and etiquette) are about drawing a balance between doing what you please and hurting other people by doing it. Where is the balance in your post? Do creators have any rights in your worldview?

    Ah, the old zero sum worldview. Fascinating in how antiquated it is. The thing is, this isn't a zero sum world. Once infinite goods get into the market, you're talking about a space where there doesn't need to be "balance" because both parties can be better off (i.e., no one is "hurt," no one needs to be "protected").

    Look for "balance" is a myth: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20071214/184433.shtml

    It usually means "looking for ways to protect our old obsolete business model."

    As for "rights," what I discuss is how content creators don't just have rights, they have more opportunities than ever before to make MORE money and have a LARGER audience by using these things to their advantage.

    A true business model problem comes up in an orderly market where consumers express their preferences by choosing what to buy.

    Do you REALLY not realize that's exactly what's happening? Consumers are expressing their preferences everyday. And what are you doing? You're suing them for expressing their preferences in a way that goes against your business model.

    Prefer VoD to DVD - just buy VoD and providers will offer more. Prices will adjust to reflect supply and demand. DVD retailers may die and VoD providers flourish. That's a market and a change in business model.

    Ah, yes, but in your world "supply and demand" only applies when you get to artificially limit the supply. Even when the REAL answer to the supply and demand question is that the supply is infinite and the price should be zero. So, why NOT let supply and demand set the price? I'm all for it. It's you and your employer who is asking gov't to distort the market with artificial limits.

    P2P is theft, pure and simple.

    It is not, and never has been. P2P is a distribution system, pure and simple. It is sometimes used for infringement. It is sometimes used for legitimate purposes. However, it IS a very efficient distribution mechanism. Your REAL problem (and, again, this is a business model problem) is that it's an efficient distribution mechanism that you don't control. Your business model is based on limiting and controlling the distribution channel. The real problem with P2P is that it (beyond being much more efficient) isn't under your control.

    It UNDERMINES consumers ability to express their preferences through markets.

    This is simply untrue and it's easy to see that. More people today have more access to more content than ever before. How could you possibly say that it undermines consumers?

    Why download through VoD if the product is free? And if it's free - then it doesn't get made any more.

    Again this is drastically and ridiculously incorrect. We've pointed to plenty of examples why this is wrong. There are tons of ways to make money off of free content (by making actual scarce goods more valuable). The idea that content "doesn't get made any more" is laughable. As file sharing has become more popular, what has happened? More music than ever before has been created.

    And this isn't a new thing. Giuseppe Verdi produced a lot more content when he only got paid to create it (pre-copyright) then post-copyright when he could just rest on his laurels and charge for old work. In other words, copyright guaranteed that LESS content was produced, not more.

    Free-riding works for a while - but as with any parasite- too much parasitic behavior and not only the host dies - so does the parasite

    You are making a huge incorrect assumption: that the relationship is parasitic. That may be true for short-sighted companies like your employer -- but if you actually understand the economics, you can create a business model that is beneficial for everyone.

    That's what happened with recorded music, player pianos, cassette tapes, vcrs and even the printing press -- all of which are declared "pirate tools" that would take away all incentive for production. Instead, the opposite happened. That's what's happening with P2P too.

    And don't come back with "everyone will watch 3 minute videos made on low cost camcorders". That's a new form of media and lots of people watch it all the time. But consumers who watch YouTube are ALSO watching lots of TV and Movies and reading books and have tremendous interest in professional media too.

    I've never made that argument, so I'm not going to defend it. I don't think it's true. I'm not sure why you would think I have made that argument.

    What about their rights to have these forms of content created for their benefit?

    First of all, no one has a "right" to have the specific forms of content he wants created. He can have demand for it, and there are plenty of business models to allow content creation (even hugely expensive movies) even without copyright. I've discussed these at great length here. The fact that you ignore them is either ignorance or delusion.

    There are a lot of folks who like to call it promotion (I'd like to try that at the bank - let me take some money and i'll like money more so it's good for the bank)

    You ought to learn the difference between infinite goods and scarce goods. Otherwise, you make arguments like the one above which are not at all analogous.

    But your post allows NADA for the rights of artists, musicians, photographers, etc. etc. who have their work stolen every day. Tell me what they CAN do to protect themselves from theft, and you'll have more credibility then simply objecting to anything they do to protect their rights because it "infringes" on users "rights" to simply do what they want because they can.

    Huh? Everything I post is about how those artists, musicians, photographers, etc. etc. etc. can make MORE money by embracing the economics we're seeing today. It's not about "PROTECTION", but it's about creating business models that grow markets for themselves and their customers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    jeremy, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    Ads by Google...

    I like the ad at the top right of the page that says 'AT&T Yahoo! DSL Plans'...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Iron Chef, Jan 10th, 2008 @ 11:29pm

    Re: Re:

    Sorry, a little late, but... Oh Snap!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2008 @ 8:56pm

    Re: Re:

    Would you like to state who you work for? I can see it via the IP address, and it's quite telling.

    Funny how Pixelm didn't reply, isn't it? Oh well, I imagine he/she/it just changed his/her/it's name, got a new address and moved on to another thread.

    There definitely seem to be some industry turf trolls hanging out around here.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    el capitan, Jan 28th, 2008 @ 8:21am

    Stuck with AT&T no matter what

    This was touched on briefly by the article, but where I live AT&T is the only option. I live in a large town (or small city) and while we have quite a few options for tier 2 providers, AT&T owns the ATM backbone. So everyone in the area runs off AT&T, even if you aren't specifically a customer of theirs.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This