Senators Wyden And Markey Make It Clear AT&T Is Violating Net Neutrality

from the ill-communication dept

For years now, AT&T has imposed arbitrary broadband monthly usage caps and costly overage fees — but not if you use the company’s own streaming TV service. As a result, when you use AT&T’s own streaming TV platforms, you won’t see any limits. But try to use an AT&T competitor like Amazon, Hulu, or Netflix, and you’ll face monthly limits and usage surcharges. Like many big ISPs, AT&T has temporarily lifted its caps on fixed-line broadband networks, but is expected to quietly return to the practice once things semi-normalize.

AT&T has confirmed that the same approach will be applied to AT&T’s latest streaming TV service, HBO Max. Use AT&T’s broadband service and AT&T’s HBO Max? No arbitrary, unnecessary, or costly restrictions. Use AT&T’s broadband service but want to use Netflix instead? Suddenly you’re facing annoying restrictions and a higher monthly bill. AT&T also lets deep-pocketed companies pay for exclusion from usage caps, something that disadvantages smaller competitors.

AT&T’s been doing this for several years without penalty, so the extension to its newest streaming service isn’t surprising. But last week Senators Ron Wyden, Ed Markey, and Richard Blumenthal fired off a letter to outgoing AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (pdf), asking the company to explain how giving preferential treatment to its own services isn’t a terrible precedent:

“According to AT&T, HBO Max is benefiting from AT&T?s ?sponsored data” system, which allows content companies to pay AT&T for the right to be exempt from data caps. Although HBO Max may technically be paying for this benefit, AT&T is essentially paying itself. This practice of allowing one arm of your company to ?pay? another arm of your company for preferential treatment attempts to mask its true impact. The Trump FCC may have gutted critical net neutrality protections, but AT&T nonetheless has a responsibility to avoid any policies or practices that harm consumers and stifle competition. We urge you to provide us with an explanation for the behavior described above by June 25, 2020.”

Several other ISPs (like Comcast) have engaged in similar behavior. When pressed, they’ll usually trot out a pseudo-technical justification for the practice, insisting that because much of this traffic only touches an ISP’s own network, usage caps need not apply. That’s not only nonsensical, it ignores the fact that there’s simply no technical justification for caps and usage charges in the first place. None. Such limits don’t manage congestion. They’re simply arbitrary price hikes imposed in uncompetitive markets. And they’re not a useful price differentiator either (that’s what speed tiers and business class service is for).

AT&T knows full well that since its lobbyists just got done convincing the FCC to effectively not just gut net neutrality rules but also the FCC’s authority over telecom, there’s nothing the FCC can do about any of this. And users can’t really punish AT&T via “the market,” because they have no competing ISP to flee to. That leaves either Congress, which is awash in AT&T campaign contributions (making it extremely unlikely we see a net neutrality law anytime soon), and states, whose responses will range from inconsistent to nonexistent.

However folks attempt to justify this, it’s an entrenched telecom monopoly imposing arbitrary limits, then selectively removing them to give their own platforms an unfair market advantage. And because AT&T has incredible sway over the lion’s share of regulators and lawmakers, nobody’s going to do a damn thing about any of it beyond a few polite letters.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: at&t

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Senators Wyden And Markey Make It Clear AT&T Is Violating Net Neutrality”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Why not Disney?

What I don’t see is AT&T throttling Disney+. I can see two reasons:

1) Disney+ does not have enough subscribers YET.(is not a Huge competitor) and

2) Disney is HUGE as a corporation and they don’t want to get into lawsuits with Disney and cause a real meaningful change to Net Neutrality (and hurt their pocketbooks even more).

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Why not Disney?

Subjecting Disney+ to data caps is the concern. And I have seen no evidence Disney+ is exempted from data caps. Most people are just always on Wi-fi since the launch, because for some reason people aren’t out and about right now, so AT&T’s mobile data caps haven’t been a concern. Some thing about a pandemic or something.

Anonymous Coward says:

once that asshole Pai got in charge of the FCC, brought about the destruction of Net Neutrality and all the associated rules that his predecessor had put in place to do what the FCC is supposed to do, ie look after the customers, the people, rather than these leeching companies and those in Congress giving them all the say, the USA broadband market was an even bigger cash cow, for companies and a few individuals, than before! we have the highest charges for the worst service, the worst customer service and repairs, as well as the slowest and lowest ‘upgrade’ connections of the non 3rd world countries! any wonder people think of us as a laughing stock?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
04:48 Dumb Telecom Take Of The Week: Because The Internet Didn't Explode, Killing Net Neutrality Must Not Have Mattered (23)
09:37 British Telecom Wants Netflix To Pay A Tax Simply Because Squid Game Is Popular (32)
04:55 Axios Parrots A Lot Of Dumb, Debunked Nonsense About Net Neutrality (54)
10:50 NY AG Proves Broadband Industry Funded Phony Public Support For Attack On Net Neutrality (10)
06:24 The GOP Is Using Veterans As Props To Demonize Net Neutrality (22)
06:03 Telecom Using Veterans As Props To Demonize California's New Net Neutrality Law (12)
09:32 AT&T Whines That California Net Neutrality Rules Are Forcing It To Behave (11)
06:23 The New York Times (Falsely) Informs Its 7 Million Readers Net Neutrality Is 'Pointless' (51)
15:34 Facebook's Australian News Ban Did Demonstrate The Evil Of Zero Rating (18)
04:58 'Net Neutrality Hurt Internet Infrastructure Investment' Is The Bad Faith Lie That Simply Won't Die (11)
05:48 Dumb New GOP Talking Point: If You Restore Net Neutrality, You HAVE To Kill Section 230. Just Because! (66)
06:31 DOJ Drops Ridiculous Trump-Era Lawsuit Against California For Passing Net Neutrality Rules (13)
06:27 The Wall Street Journal Kisses Big Telecom's Ass In Whiny Screed About 'Big Tech' (13)
10:45 New Interim FCC Boss Jessica Rosenworcel Will Likely Restore Net Neutrality, Just Not Yet (5)
15:30 Small Idaho ISP 'Punishes' Twitter And Facebook's 'Censorship' ... By Blocking Access To Them Entirely (81)
05:29 A Few Reminders Before The Tired Net Neutrality Debate Is Rekindled (13)
06:22 U.S. Broadband Speeds Jumped 90% in 2020. But No, It Had Nothing To Do With Killing Net Neutrality. (12)
12:10 FCC Ignores The Courts, Finalizes Facts-Optional Repeal Of Net Neutrality (19)
10:46 It's Opposite Day At The FCC: Rejects All Its Own Legal Arguments Against Net Neutrality To Claim It Can Be The Internet Speech Police (13)
12:05 Blatant Hypocrite Ajit Pai Decides To Move Forward With Bogus, Unconstitutional Rulemaking On Section 230 (178)
06:49 FCC's Pai Puts Final Bullet In Net Neutrality Ahead Of Potential Demotion (25)
06:31 The EU Makes It Clear That 'Zero Rating' Violates Net Neutrality (6)
06:22 DOJ Continues Its Quest To Kill Net Neutrality (And Consumer Protection In General) In California (11)
11:08 Hypocritical AT&T Makes A Mockery Of Itself; Says 230 Should Be Reformed For Real Net Neutrality (28)
06:20 Trump, Big Telecom Continue Quest To Ban States From Protecting Broadband Consumers (19)
06:11 Senators Wyden And Markey Make It Clear AT&T Is Violating Net Neutrality (13)
06:31 Net Neutrali-what? AT&T's New Streaming Service Won't Count Against Its Broadband Caps. But Netflix Will. (25)
06:23 Telecom's Latest Dumb Claim: The Internet Only Works During A Pandemic Because We Killed Net Neutrality (49)
13:36 Ex-FCC Staffer Says FCC Authority Given Up In Net Neutrality Repeal Sure Would Prove Handy In A Crisis (13)
06:27 Clarence Thomas Regrets Brand X Decision That Paved Way For The Net Neutrality Wars (11)
More arrow