Why AT&T's Plans To Filter The Internet Will Only Do More Harm To AT&T (And Everyone Else)

from the not-a-good-idea dept

AT&T announced last summer that it was going to start filtering traffic for copyrighted content -- so we're still not entirely sure why many in the press seem to think it was something new when discussed at CES a few weeks ago. However, this new burst of attention has many more people pointing out all the reasons this is bad for AT&T itself. As we said, this seems to make no sense at all, unless it's some bizarre attempt to come up with an excuse to get rid of net neutrality. In that post, we noted that any filtering would likely open up additional liabilities for AT&T, potentially losing its safe harbors from being a service provider (safe harbors that AT&T itself spent a lot of effort lobbying to have put into the law). Tim Wu has a lot more detail on that aspect of this plan (which he calls "corporate seppuku"). However, there are many other problems for AT&T as well. For example, it won't take long for someone to accuse AT&T of violating wiretap laws, a charge which may be accurate. But the biggest point is that this won't even do what they hope it will do. It won't stop unauthorized transfers from happening and it won't reduce network traffic. As we've discussed in the past, every move to do this kind of filtering will only drive up the market for encryption technologies, and that encryption actually adds more overhead to internet traffic. The PC World article linked above notes that 20% of all bittorrent traffic is encrypted, and if that number goes up, as it will under a filtering regime, the network load will only increase. So, if AT&T actually thinks (as it sometimes claims) that filtering will decrease the burden on the network, it's likely very mistaken.

Filed Under: encryption, filtering, liability, network neutrality
Companies: at&t


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  1. identicon
    M, 21 Jan 2008 @ 6:25am

    Re: Encrypted traffic

    It is not true to say that encryption makes little difference....encryption adds a LOT of overhead to bandwidth needs.

    For example, let's say a 100MB file takes 15 minutes to transfer from point A to point B over the Internet without any encryption.

    When you add encryption, you are coding that traffic and adding additional overhead (usually about 20%) so the traffic can be decrypted at the other end. A prime example of this is IPSec encryption, which most corporations use to enable employees to have remote VPN access to the corporate network from their home DSL or Cable Internet server.

    So with encryption, that same 100MB file will take at least 20% longer to transfer from point A to point B across the Internet, or in this case, it will take about 18 minutes instead of 15 minutes.

    Now add 20% to millions of users.... you've just created a network that is undersized with worse response time than when you started.

    I think the whitelist idea is a huge part of what AT&T is thinking, with extra fees to be part of that whitelist. Thus, the creation of a prioritized traffic-based Internet with neutrality thrown out the window.

    Frankly, it's incredibly risky, because AT&T is one of the few tier 1 ISP backbone carriers in the U.S., and they are using that unique position as leverage to control the Internet and find new revenue streams, leaving all the tier 2 and tier 3 ISP's completely unable to control what's happening across the tier 1 ISP backbone network.

    It is also incredibly arrogant of AT&T to attempt to distinguish "licensed" traffic from "unlicensed" traffic. At the end of the day, they will fail and will spend millions of dollars doing it, further devaluing their stock.

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