AT&T Says It Will Cut Off P2P Wireless Users; But What About Pandora Users?

from the be-careful-on-that-iPhone dept

While those who like to claim that the US broadband market is more competitive than it really is like to point to the rise of 3G wireless networks as proof, they almost always ignore the fact that those 3G networks come with insanely restrictive terms of service, that allow the providers to cut users off for almost any activity outside of email or web browsing. For example, using such a service for video and music has been prohibited in some terms of service. Sprint was the most open with their 3G wireless until recently.

Now AT&T is admitting that if it discovers users of its wireless broadband 3G service are making use of P2P apps, it will cut them off completely, and claims that it makes this clear in the terms of service. It hasn’t happened yet, but this bit of data will supposedly be used by a dissenting FCC commissioner this week to show that Comcast’s traffic shaping is pretty tame compared to other “rules” out there on network usage (ignoring the very different nature of the networks in question, of course).

This raises a number of questions: If AT&T’s biggest concern about P2P file sharing apps is clogging its 3G wireless network, why does it allow streaming apps to run on the iPhone? For example, one of the most popular apps on the iPhone is Pandora, whose customized streaming radio offering is super popular (and appears to work quite well). So is AT&T going to cut off users of one of the most popular apps on the iPhone? And how will AT&T respond when someone (inevitably, if they haven’t already done so) develops an iPhone app for P2P file sharing as well? This really just seems like AT&T slipping an excuse into the terms of service to cut off anyone they don’t like — but in the long run it may backfire as people get pissed off at AT&T for limiting what new devices like the iPhone can do.

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Companies: at&t, pandora

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Comments on “AT&T Says It Will Cut Off P2P Wireless Users; But What About Pandora Users?”

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56 Comments
Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Sorry, but it is hard to work up much sympathy for those who loathe what AT&T may do to those using P2P.

Yeah, those awful P2P apps like Skype and SETI@Home and Folding@Home.

Evil, evil things.

But, as per usual, MLS is talking about the wrong thing in his weak attempt at misdirection. The explanation given has nothing to do with what people are doing with P2P, but the bandwidth used.

But why should that stop MLS from moralizing, even after it’s been pointed out to him, in great detail, why his moralizing is misplaced.

If you honestly think that P2P = “steals stuff” then you have no clue what P2P is.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Since I did note there are merits to P2P, and since you happened to mention some examples, perhaps you have some research that provides some form of evidentiary proof that P2P is primarily being used for purposes other than unlawful file sharing.

Nice way of avoiding the point: AT&T is not doing this because of legal reasons, but for network management. To say that it’s okay for them to do things for one reason, when they’re clearing doing them for another, you are simply rationalizing your own questionable morality. Oh, wait, that’s what you accuse everyone you disagree with of doing.

When we point out economic rationales for things, you get uptight in arguing morality. When we point out that your moral argument doesn’t make sense, you go back to “law and order.” And here, where AT&T is claiming technical reasons, you go back to morality.

The cognitive dissonance is strong with you, MLS.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Seriously, are there any studies you are aware of that provide some insight and breakdown into how P2P is being used? News articles and anecdotal references suggest illegal file sharing. You note some laudable uses. I am simply curious if anyone has done a study to try and figure out what is really happening?

I don’t think anyone denies that the majority of P2P use involves file sharing.

But, again, that’s totally off-topic. Why would it even matter, when that’s not even what’s being discussed?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Seriously, are there any studies you are aware of that provide some insight and breakdown into how P2P is being used? News articles and anecdotal references suggest illegal file sharing. You note some laudable uses. I am simply curious if anyone has done a study to try and figure out what is really happening?

And, following up on this, even you should recognize that the legal standard here is substantial non-infringing uses — of which there are TONS.

Yet, why let that stop you when you’re going to argue morality, when the law goes against you.

And why let either thing bother you when the fact is AT&T is only discussing network performance.

Same old MLS.

MLS (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I do not understand what your reference to a “legal standard” has to do with my question. Mine is no more and no less than an attempt to try and understand how P2P is being used at this point in time. You suggest the predominant use is for file sharing. All I wonder is if this is something that has been shown by empirical evidence?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

All I wonder is if this is something that has been shown by empirical evidence?

Plenty of studies on that (Google is your friend). Sandvine is a biased party (they sell equipment for traffic shaping) but here you go:

http://www.xchangemag.com/hotnews/deep-packet-inspection-dpi-broadband-metering.html

“However, as a stand-alone category, P2P file sharing is still the leader at 35.5% of traffic, followed by web browsing at 32% and streaming at 18%, according to the customer research. P2P file sharing accounts for 44% of all Internet traffic, up about 4% over last year, according to the company.”

MLS (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

While I had not found that one via a search, I did find others…but, as you note, each were numbers proferred by companies with a potential bias. The numbers are generally within a rough order of magnitude, but it is not clear if they are for the most part accurate.

BTW, my interest is not necessarily due to copyright infringement. I keep reading about “net neutrality” and other terms of art, so I am curious what kind of data underlies the positions being taken by persons/groups on both sides of these issues.

Wolfgang says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

While it’s hard to prove what it’s primarily being used for, granted you should only pull the line you did when you have proof in your favor that is unbiased and from a good source, I will say that P2P has made open source more, well, open since it unloads the traffic from the projects servers and makes it cheaper to maintain when you don’t use bandwith to download the apps from the sight. One case for sure is a full blown Linux distro using torrents with most moderate ones running around 500MB to 650MB for a CD install and multiple GB’s in such cases as Fedora the bandwith not used for downloading from the sight dirrectly and it’s rare that a connection disruption will harm the file you’re downloading like when using ftp.

Google TiSP (BETA) (user link) says:

Poor performance

If my subdivision has poor water pressure coming from the pipes, they don’t come to the neighborhood and police me for taking a 6 minute shower, nor do they give tips on boiling water for pasta or potatoes, nor do they scold me for washing the dog or tips on when to flush the toilet.

What the town does is put more pipes in to accommodate the subdivision’s increase in water usage. This is what the FCC should encourage.

Mike Allen says:

MLS

i really dont see what your problem is you talk as if you work for the IRAA who charge over the odds and are the real pirates as money paid dont get to artists. However thats another story. Here in the UK we have rhe BBC Iplayer (why they called it that is a mystary) millions of downloads of TV and radio programs a week all legal all P2P. It has been a great success as to anything we have 10 machines 3 servers half of the others are linux. one ibox is a experamental box we change the linux distro to whatever is the latest we then acess the distro for acessability and report our findings to subcribers via email. my point being there is a lot of P2p THAT IS USED LEGALLY. As more and more people are changing to Linux since Vista came out.

Michael Long (user link) says:

Stealing stuff...

“If you honestly think that P2P = “steals stuff” then you have no clue what P2P is.”

This is true. P2P only equals about 90% “stealing stuff”.

But by and large, AT&T’s stance is an non-issue, as in the near future demand on it’s 3G network will primarily consist of that used by iPhones, and no P2P application exists (or will exist) on of the App Store for the iPhone.

Subtract those numbers, and you’re left with the paltry few using some other 3G phone or those who’ve jailbreaked an iPhone. And even then, given the limited storage and battery life of a mobile device, what idiot would want to run a P2P application on them anyway?

Bravest343 says:

I read most of the comments posted, and I came to a certain conclusion that most would perhaps consider; then again some may not because thet rely to much on their precious little toy. If history has taught us anything it is that it repeates itself. Now is the time to take action as “Consumers” and show who really is the boss by sacrificing our gadgets and terminating out of contracts. C’mon people think and use you’re God given rights. Too many good men have died for our rights, and far too men and women are fighting and dying right now for us. If we unite as consumers and sacrifice just a little we will have our victory!

DavidB (profile) says:

silly

who really CARES anyway? I mean that is TRULY impacted at this point in wireless evolution? AT&T’s 3G coverage is SO miniscule it’s laughable, most people (reports abound) can’t even get a 3G data connection driving around New York City with an iPhone 3G! Let alone the rest of the country. And trying to do ANY p2p over EDGE would just be downright STOOPID.

James Evans says:

see...?

This is why I won’t buy an IPhone. I don’t care about P2P rules– I just think that these phone companies are bullies, and I won’t sign a contract with them. I’d rather pay more on Virgin with a pre-pay than get surprised by giant bills and weirdo rules, with cancellation fees, to boot. If IPhone gave you the chance to use any phone company– and it should be illegal not to– then I would consider it. But the market cannot correct bad pricing when you limit the competition.

Industry Analyst says:

yet another from the "Don't Bother Me with the Facts" dept.

Mike, did you actually CALL AT&T and ask them about the Pandora application?

Did you know that Pandora is available for other AT&T devices on its 3G network?

Did you know Pandora’s streaming service operates the same as several other streaming music and video services that are offered on AT&T’s WAP deck?

Do you know how much data is consumed by P2P vs. streaming designed specifically for wireless networks?

If you don’t know those things, it seems pretty irresponsible to get so wound about things that you clearly don’t understand.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: yet another from the "Don't Bother Me with the Facts" dept.

Mike, did you actually CALL AT&T and ask them about the Pandora application?

No, but I’m quite familiar with how Pandora works. If you’re not, that would appear to be your problem.

Did you know that Pandora is available for other AT&T devices on its 3G network?

Yup. And on some phones from other carriers as well (though, not for free). The point was that it’s been incredibly popular on the iPhone because it’s free.

Did you know Pandora’s streaming service operates the same as several other streaming music and video services that are offered on AT&T’s WAP deck?

Yup. But I’m not sure what that has to do with anything. The point is that AT&T is complaining about bandwidth hogs, but ignoring some of the bandwidth hogs they approve.

Do you know how much data is consumed by P2P vs. streaming designed specifically for wireless networks?

Yup. I actually do. And, yes, P2P *can* use up more bandwidth, but apps like Pandora do use up significant bandwidth.

If you don’t know those things, it seems pretty irresponsible to get so wound about things that you clearly don’t understand.

And if you assume I don’t know these things, it seems pretty irresponsible to get so wound up about what I’ve written, when it’s clear that you are wrong.

Industry Analyst says:

Re: Re: yet another from the "Don't Bother Me with the Facts" dept.

“Mike, did you actually CALL AT&T and ask them about the Pandora application?

No, but I’m quite familiar with how Pandora works. If you’re not, that would appear to be your problem.”
=================================================

The problem is not that I don’t understand the application but that you never bothered to get on the phone and ask AT&T what they’re actually going to do about Pandora and how it affects their networks compared to P2P.

It’s one thing to sit in our offices and say, “If they don’t like A then they can’t like B either.” But a responsible analyst or a journalist could find the the people at AT&T to actually ask. Reading your stuff, Mike, is like fighting with my wife. “I know what you’re thinking… ” she says. You DON’T know what AT&T is thinking. But you’re smart enough and connected enough to ask.

And you should.

And the fact that you are NOT asking the questions of the companies you’re complaining about is what’s irresponsible. And it reflects very poorly on Techdirt.

ChiefY says:

Straw Men Much

Jeez. For a guy that purports to loathe straw men arguments as much as you do (see: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=site%3Atechdirt.com+straw+men&btnG=Google+Search), this one is a real whopper.

First of all, you bring up the spectre of AT&T doing something that they haven’t actually done. But beyond that, you start going multiple steps down that path, talking about how it will affect iPhone sales, etc. The fact is is that AT&T DOES allow Pandora and other similar apps on the iPhone.

Of course, Pandora isn’t a P2P app, so that’s a little sleight of hand right there. It may be high bandwidth, but then why does it work just fine on the old EDGE-based iPhone? It obviously doesn’t tax the network much.

Beyond that you wonder whether AT&T will start banning P2P apps from the iPhone. But do you really think Apple would let such an app into the App Store? Clearly such an app would be verboten. The point there is that AT&T doesn’t have to worry about invoking that issue, since Apple will do it for them.

Again, this is a pure strawman post. You’ve attacked AT&T for something it didn’t do, and then pointed how it’s stupid either way.

Another thing with your Comcast example. Yes, the networks are different so comparing one to the other on the FCC’s part is silly. But AT&T is disclosing its policy in the TOS. Isn’t a big issue with Comcast that they’re doing things secretively without telling customers?

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Straw Men Much

First of all, you bring up the spectre of AT&T doing something that they haven’t actually done

I was responding to what AT&T clearly stated it *would* do in response to an FCC question. I didn’t bring it up out of nowhere, as you imply.

The fact is is that AT&T DOES allow Pandora and other similar apps on the iPhone.

Yes, and I’m asking why that’s okay, whereas other apps are deemed bad.

Of course, Pandora isn’t a P2P app, so that’s a little sleight of hand right there.

Not sleight of hand. I clearly state that in the post. Or did you not read it? I note that Pandora is a streaming app, not a P2P app, and ask why AT&T is concerned about one, rather than the other, even though both consume a lot of bandwidth.

The only strawman here is you implying I said something I didn’t.

Beyond that you wonder whether AT&T will start banning P2P apps from the iPhone. But do you really think Apple would let such an app into the App Store?

Perhaps you missed the point of this. OF COURSE they won’t ban Pandora. That’s the point. They claim they’re so worried about network performance that they’ll ban P2P, but then they have no problem with streaming apps, which can use up just as much bandwidth.

But AT&T is disclosing its policy in the TOS. Isn’t a big issue with Comcast that they’re doing things secretively without telling customers?

If that’s the issue, then it’s an issue for the FTC, which is concerned with truth in advertising, not the FCC.

Big Death Globe says:

HUH?

This is why I won’t buy an IPhone. I don’t care about P2P rules– I just think that these phone companies are bullies, and I won’t sign a contract with them. I’d rather pay more on Virgin with a pre-pay than get surprised by giant bills and weirdo rules, with cancellation fees, to boot. If IPhone gave you the chance to use any phone company– and it should be illegal not to– then I would consider it. But the market cannot correct bad pricing when you limit the competition.

The rights to the device you refer to were negotiated on a free market basis. It makes no sense for you to claim that no selling the iPhone on every platform should be illegal, if AT&T can put forth the capital necessary to secure exclusive right to the phone, what can your issue possibly be?

Trevor says:

This affects more than phones

If you have one of those AT&T 3G modems that plug into the USB port on your laptop, then this affects you. They’re saying you can’t use bittorrent or limewire on your own computer just because you happen to be connected to the internet through AT&T’s 3G network. Remember, AT&T’s 3G network is being aggressively sold as a connectivity tool for your laptop computer, not just your cell phone.

Ken Brerger (user link) says:

Understanding P2P

ATT along with most of the carriers are dinosaurs, but everyone should understand that P2P means many things some of which can use massive amounts of bandwidth for activities of questionable legality and others use minimal bandwidth for productive purposes. In most peoples mind P2P = stealing copywrited material (and this is the case of most of the press.

To equate streaming media (with it’s totally different bandwidth usage) with P2P shows a total misunderstanding of the basic concepts.

WDD says:

We seem to have become lost in the P2P issue, when the real issue is who owns the airway? Not AT&T, they lease it from us and much of this dialog should be directed toward the FCC. Not that it will do any good, since as we have seen with the recent passing of the FISA bill the communications companies can break the law and not have to worry about getting in trouble for it. This attitude about the network comes from Edward E. Whitacre Jr. former CEO of AT&T who thought it was his.

Nick (user link) says:

Hah!

This is a ridiculous argument. 3G is probably most used on phones, with a smaller amount of computer users. There is nothing legitimate that you could download via P2P on your phone that you couldn’t wait to do back at your computer. Furthermore, streaming music uses a tiny amount of bandwidth compared with the potentially huge use of bandwidth in a P2P program. If you’re a P2P user, get a proper internet connection. Otherwise, learn to live without it.

Omar Qazi (user link) says:

Peer to peer uses a lot more bandwidth then just a simple streaming service. While Pandora downloads the song once, and plays it (perhaps 2 or 3 megabytes of bandwidth) a peer to peer service would download the song, and upload it to anyone who needs it, using an infinite amount of bandwidth given an infinite time, where maxes out at 2 or 3 megabytes a song. Big difference.

cary ann mahony says:

At&T wireless phone service

I did not receive any instructions with this phone. I looked and was told to call support. I was then told there is not instruction manual, guide or anything I can touch that will explain all the uses or how to use some of the services offered. I feel I should at least been sold a Blackberry for what this piece of crap cost me, almost $300 when done. The rebate is in a gas card. Excuse me,rebate means cash back to me. Now the phone is off and not charging. I used to on the old slimline phone plug it in and talk. Not this one.

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