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
    Rob Frieden, 4 Jan 2007 @ 5:55am

    AT&T's Less is Less Merger Concession on Net Neutr

    Judging from the express reservation of the IPTV AT&T network, I bet we'll see a dispute about whether fiber is included. First would fiber be included as part of wireline Internet access when the FCC has made a copper/glass and legacy/new field distinction? Second why would AT&T expressly take Uverse/IPTV networks off the table if they didn't think they were safeguarding fiber? Third what difference does it make when the FCC has abdicated any responsibility for oversight of information networks beyond CALEA and E911? AT&T has a conditional net neutrality commitment from the IXP closest to the end user onward to the enduser. So it has no net neutrality responsibility upstream and may have offer superior QOS guarantees such that Content Provider A's bits always get to the IXP on "better than best efforts terms." That may not trouble me, but going to the point about the scope of AT&T's commitment, I'm not sure they have offered much, particularly since AT&T probably will self provision to the closest IXP and may do so onward.

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