And By The Time Anyone Reads The Sneaky Fine Print On AT&T's Concessions, The Merger Will Be Done

from the fooled-ya dept

A few hours ago, we wrote about the concessions AT&T agreed to in order to get their merger with BellSouth approved -- possibly today. It was a little strange to see the concession letter come out late Thursday night before New Years, but the concessions seemed genuine enough, and many of the consumer groups fighting the deal accepted the terms and agreed that it looked like AT&T had agreed to live up to network neutrality rules. Of course, the fine print may actually tell a different story.

Dave Burstein, who knows more about DSL than probably just about anyone, lets us know that the fine print in the deal actually may negate the network neutrality premise. The wording is a little tricky, but while they agree not to remove network neutrality from their standard network, hidden in the middle of a later paragraph is this sentence: "This commitment also does not apply to AT&T/BellSouth's Internet Protocol television (IPTV) service." At first that might seem innocuous, but Burstein has pointed out that AT&T's always planned on using the IPTV network as that high-speed toll lane it wants Google, Vonage and others to pay extra for. Burstein notes that AT&T isn't even set up to put quality of service on their existing network -- so the agreement not to violate network neutrality on that network is effectively meaningless. It is, he claims, a sleight of hand that successfully fooled a bunch of people into supporting the deal, and will probably help it get approval. AT&T promises not to violate network neutrality on a network they never intended to use that way, and carves out permission to use it on their new network, where they had planned all along to set up additional tollbooths.

Also, in response to the original post, the details show that the naked DSL they're promising is limited to only 768k down, which is pretty slow these days. It's also worth noting that they don't say a damn thing about upstream speeds (as is the fashion these days), which means it's probably down around 128k. Again, Burstein points out that at such an upstream speed, VoIP tends not to work very well -- so for those who want naked DSL because they plan to just use VoIP instead of a phone line, AT&T may have just made that more difficult (I will say, personally, though, that I've been able to use VoIP at 128k, but it does break up if anyone else is doing anything on the network). However, after looking through the fine print, it certainly looks like the "concessions" AT&T agreed to aren't very big concessions at all.

Update: And, as expected, the FCC has now approved the merger. A lot of folks have been contacting us about this today, arguing on both sides of the equation, claiming that AT&T's concessions are a big deal, or that they've left plenty of loopholes. One thing that's for certain is that we haven't heard the last of this, and there's going to be plenty of arguing going forward about whether or not AT&T actually lives up to the spirit of what they're proposing.

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  1. identicon
    CLEC Insider, 29 Dec 2006 @ 7:40am

    Revised: 'Net Neutrality: ATT's Smoke and Mirrors

    For those of you who like reading more-well-edited rants (*blush*):

    ATT's concessions are tempting, but I feel that the FCC acceptance of the terms offered will, ultimately, do nothing positive for the principals of 'Net Neutrality.'

    1) In the 2nd statement of the 'Net Neutrality' section, ATT feels that to 'fulfill' their net neutrality commitment they simply must abstain from not selling privileged services to others. This does not prevent ATT from subjecting their own customer's packets to discrimination, for whatever reason.

    2) This statement goes on to say that the 'privilege' they don't intend to sell only involves the source, destination, and 'owner' of the packet in question. It DOES NOT state that the prohibited privilege extends to the TYPE of packet being used. For instance, independent of what TCP/UDP port is being used, if their IP fabric detects an H.323 or other type of VoIP packet, it may not allow the packet to travel the same path or cary the same QOS as other 'average' packets.

    3) ATT commitment to their version of Net Neutrality only extends from the CPE (i.e. IAD, [x]DSL Modem, CSU) to the nearest 'Internet Exchange Point' (IEP) which is '... the point of interconnection that is logically, temporally or physically closest to the customer's premise where public or private Internet backbone networks freely exchange Internet packets.' This is a flowery, but ultimately, useless statement. In one possible case the customer's data may have to pass through more than one IEP before reaching the light of day, all of which may be owned and operated by ATT, while only the first of these 'points' may not be used for packet discrimination as they have defined it. To truly embody the principals of Net Neutrality, the IEP should be defined as the point where the packet in question meets any other private or public carrier not affiliated or committed to packet discrimination with ATT in any way.

    I agree with the previous comments that ATT is not giving anything up that they have not already been prepared to do so. In fact, their concept of 'Net Neutrality' is false if you agree that the entire network should remain neutral to any packet type, movement, and 'owner'.

    If Copps and Addlestein -- the Democratic FCC commissioners holding up the Commission's approval of the merger -- agree to these 'concessions' (and I sincerely hope they do not), they will most likely do nothing for the NN fight accept:
    - to commit everyone an expanded realm of buzzwords by casting the 'Net Neutrality' sword in a rather unwieldy stone,
    - provide a tremendous victory to ATT's PR department: [Ed Whitacre to Bill O'Reilly]: 'Of COURSE we are committed to Net Neutrality!',
    - embolden ATT, VZ, and others to stomp all over their customer's rights to freedom from monopolistic manipulation, if for no other reason than proving they can still put one over on what's left of the Consumer's Advocate.

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