AT&T Exec Insists That No Broadband Company Is Violating Net Neutrality Even Though AT&T Is Absolutely Violating Net Neutrality

from the nothing-to-see-here dept

For a couple of years now, AT&T has been trampling net neutrality without much of anybody giving a damn. Like many ISPs eager to take full advantage of limited US broadband competition, AT&T imposes arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees on its broadband lines. If you're an AT&T broadband customer who uses more than 150 GB (DSL) to 1 terabyte (fiber) monthly, you'll suddenly face having to pay $10 per each additional 50 gigabytes consumed. Again to be clear: there's no technical reason for these limits to exist outside of nickel-and-diming captive customers.

While these caps have been in place for a while, a few years ago AT&T began eliminating these restrictions for its broadband customers if you use AT&T's own streaming platforms. Use Netflix instead, and you'll face a significantly higher broadband bill. This is by any measure a net neutrality violation because it allows AT&T to use its power as network operator to try and stake out a distinct advantage.

Speaking at Recode's Code Media conference this week, AT&T President John Stankey was asked a bit about the potential for AT&T to abuse its power as newfound owner of both the content and the conduit. His response was fairly stunning:

"You'd be hard-pressed to point to an instance of anybody's behavior that would suggest that there is any kind of discrimination, favoritism, or anything else going on in how people get to content on the Internet over a broadband connection," Stankey said. "It's a problem that's non-existent. There's absolutely nothing that's occurring."

Again, either Stankey doesn't understand how his own products work, or he's flat out lying. Hard to tell, since, as is usually the case at such conferences, nobody followed up with any pointed questions. Hell, AT&T pioneered the idea of "sponsored data," which involves letting companies literally buy their way to network favoritism if they had enough cash. Under AT&T's ideal model, if you pay AT&T enough cash, arbitrary restrictions (like usage caps) won't apply to you.

Unsurprisingly, AT&T saw resistance to these kinds of playing-field tilting business models. In fact, the previous FCC was just gearing up to crack down on this kind of behavior when Trump was elected, Pai was appointed head of the FCC, and all meaningful rules on this front were quickly obliterated at AT&T's request. Good times.

As the telecom sector has been known to do in recent months, Stankey then tried to brush aside any telecom monopoly concerns, and suggested those worried about predatory behavior look toward Google and Apple:

"Stankey would prefer that consumers direct their ire elsewhere. "I'd be far more concerned over the scale of what's occurring in terms of distribution platforms on mobile OSes, in terms and conditions associated with new product development on that and what that does to squash innovation, than anything to do with how traffic over the Internet is being treated today," he said"

The idea that telecom is an innocent angel and the only real threat to the internet comes from Silicon Valley has been a line the telecom sector has been pushing for a while, in large part because giants like AT&T want to elbow in on Facebook and Google's online ad domination. Given the fact government is exploring saddling Silicon Valley with new regulations, penalties, and oversight (many justified) while dismantling all meaningful oversight of telecom should give you some insight into how well that gambit has been going.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, data caps, fcc, john stankey, net neutrality, zero rating
Companies: at&t


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  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 21 Nov 2019 @ 6:58am

    Well, since they successfully lobbied ro have net neutrality repealed I guess he's correct in that they aren't violating it...now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 21 Nov 2019 @ 7:16am

      Re:

      While true, in the legal sense, I think Stankey's statement was expressed as 'they weren't violating net neutrality even in the sense of concept', and as Karl points out, that is flatly false.

      We get to these points of contention when entities are 'spinning' notions rather than being honest with themselves and others. So long as the topic is 'turning' there is potential for the unwary to become mesmerized by that 'spin' rather than use a tiny bit of intellectual awareness and deflect the misdirection.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2019 @ 8:37am

    Basically broadband neutrality any as well not exist ,since the fcc
    will not enforce it ,or fine any company for charging for any other company for streaming video or
    exempt its own video service,s from any broadband caps,
    This is worse in a time where every big media company is launching a streaming service .
    the only hope is some states might bring in laws to protect the consumer
    or bring in some new version of net neutrality to
    allow streaming services to compete on an equal basis with comcast or att .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    aerinai (profile), 21 Nov 2019 @ 9:10am

    But how can a 'benefit' be a violation?!

    But these violations come out of AT&T's great and caring concern for the 'little guy'... middle America that works real hard doing work stuff with their... hands... They are giving you a 'benefit' of more data by not using those other sub-par services by greedy corporate tech companies. How dare you question AT&Ts sincerity and charity! Think of the children! /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kallethen, 21 Nov 2019 @ 9:36am

    Again, either Stankey doesn't understand how his own products work, or he's flat out lying.

    Why not both?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 Nov 2019 @ 10:08am

    Dont thorw this so low, I really have to bend over..

    ""Stankey would prefer that consumers direct their ire elsewhere. "I'd be far more concerned over the scale of what's occurring in terms of distribution platforms on mobile OSes, in terms and conditions associated with new product development on that and what that does to squash innovation, than anything to do with how traffic over the Internet is being treated today," he said" " To low, I really have to bend over for this one, and they already do that to the consumer. ISP vs Internet company vs Cellphone(that has to connect threw a service LIKE ATT) the first and last Wipe each other out, its basically the same problem,, Just that the Cellphone has abit of protection. ISP is considered an access point.. Internet company tends to be Something Using the net for their service..If they were not out there, it would be a Giant chat room, file swap. I dont know any ISP that has bought up a service(not understanding how it works) Fires most of the people thinking it can be done Cheaper(wonder how they got that idea(after all the support the gov. gives, money) trys to run it like there is nothing to do except COLLECT bills/payments for services.. and it Quickly dies from lack of improvements, added features, updates, more Songs/movies/products to sell... Its craigslist that costs money.(craigslist because its cheap and simple, and things get buried all over it..It dont need much improvement, just a good cleaning) The internet companies tended, to fight and get out there and make business, and money..They are competing with the Chinese companies that are coming up and even working with a few. As well as installing about 90% of the infrastructure Out on the web. Why isnt ATT wondering around Upgrading the DSL system?? at least get to 1/2 cable speed. Or are they going to the Idea of Wireless internet..ONLY.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2019 @ 10:11am

    I don't see it

    This is by any measure a net neutrality violation because it allows AT&T to use its power as network operator to try and stake out a distinct advantage.

    As described, I don't see any conflict with net neutrality. It looks more like coercive tied selling, which can be an antitrust violation (and should be considered one given the lack of broadband competition). By subscribing to the AT&T service, you get a better internet plan than you could normally get.

    Either way, both video services are treated equivalently by the network. If you don't subscribe to AT&T video, traffic to and from that service will count toward your cap just like Netflix et al. (but of course there would be no traffic to the AT&T service unless perhaps they offer some kind of preview or you're DDoSing it). If you do subscribe, the connection is unlimited for all services, including other video providers.

    Net Neutrality is a term with specific meaning, not a generic catchall for any antitrust bullshit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 21 Nov 2019 @ 6:44pm

      Re: I don't see it

      But the traffic isn't treated equally which means net neutrality goes out the window.

      Perhaps you need to understand the definition of net neutrality before trying to call out others who actually use it correctly.

      In the definition of net neutrality COST is also a factor, if someone uses service A the cost of the connection shouldn't differ from using an equivalent service B if everything else is equal. What AT&T is doing is called zero-rating and it definitely breaks net neutrality.

      So, net neutrality is a term with specific meaning which actually encompasses equivalent costs for your internet no matter who supplies the interactive service you use.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2019 @ 4:38am

        Re: Re: I don't see it

        But the traffic isn't treated equally

        It is.

        What AT&T is doing is called zero-rating and it definitely breaks net neutrality. In the definition of net neutrality COST is also a factor, if someone uses service A the cost of the connection shouldn't differ from using an equivalent service B if everything else is equal.

        If the article's correct, the network gives no priority or special treatment of any kind for either service; the special treatment occurs at the billing level, using no information captured from the network, meaning that the network administrators have clean hands.

        Zero-rating only violates Network Neutrality when done based on network information such as the service being accessed. There's no requirement that anyone use the AT&T video service, only that they subscribe to it, at which point everything will be zero-rated.

        It's some clever scheming on AT&T's part. They do something that absolutely violates the spirit of net neutrality, but in a way they that's technically compliant with the rules. And while it technically violates anti-trust law (AT&T is leveraging their dominant position in the network-access market to force their way into the unrelated video streaming video market), they know recent administrations are very reluctant to enforce that.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rocky, 22 Nov 2019 @ 5:51am

          Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

          But the traffic IS treated differently since usage caps comes into play depending which service you subscribe to. If you use up your allotment the traffic to service A is heavily throttled while traffic to AT&T's service B remains unthrottled.

          There is no way to implement usage caps unless you muck around with the connection on the network level.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2019 @ 7:12am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

            If you use up your allotment the traffic to service A is heavily throttled while traffic to AT&T's service B remains unthrottled.

            That's simply not true. If you have the unlimited connection, both services are unlimited (but why would you subscribe to a second?). If you have a capped connection, both services are capped (but the only way to access AT&T video so as to exceed the cap would be to use someone else's login).

            There is no way to implement usage caps unless you muck around with the connection on the network level.

            Of course, but usage caps per se aren't a violation of net neutrality as long as all packets are treated equally (which they apparently are).

            This is product-tying straight out of a century-old antitrust textbook. Or, say, AT&T's playbook of 50 years ago (using monopoly power over last-mile wiring to unfairly compete in the long-distance market)... so the same solution as last time will work. AT&T last-mile network links need to be separated from AT&T internet service and AT&T video. It took a decade from antitrust filing to breakup last time (1974 to 1984), so this needs to happen ASAP.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Rocky, 22 Nov 2019 @ 9:09am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

              When I talk about service I mean a streaming service. It's not unusual to be subscribed to more than one streaming service.

              And I concede the point. What escaped my notice was that being subscribed to a AT&T's streaming service actually gives you a real unlimited internet connection. I blame this confusion on AT&T et al's warping of the word unlimited in most other cases where it's used.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 22 Nov 2019 @ 10:40am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

                What escaped my notice was that being subscribed to a AT&T's streaming service actually gives you a real unlimited internet connection.

                It's meant to escape your notice. AT&T intentionally came up with a way to make people feel they'll be penalized for using Netflix. One could reasonably call this malicious compliance with Net Neutrality rules. AT&T still get to act unfairly (if no antitrust actions are started) and will get almost 100% of the benefit they'd get by actually violating the rules. Hell, it saves their network administrators some work (they'll meter everyone's usage to every site, and the billing department will ignore that number for certain clients).

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 22 Nov 2019 @ 7:23am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

            Here's how Ars describes it:

            "But AT&T gives customers an upgrade to unlimited data if they pay an extra $30 a month or subscribe to DirecTV or U-verse TV."

            It doesn't sound like there's a way to get unlimited AT&T stuff without also getting unlimited everything else. So it's nickel and diming but not a NN issue.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Toom1275 (profile), 22 Nov 2019 @ 9:22am

          Re: Re: Re: I don't see it

          Those false redefinitions aren't helping your case much.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Nov 2019 @ 12:32pm

    AT&T can do what ever they wish on this, I've given up on their nickle and diming and told them cancel my service. I now have a service at the same price, with better speeds, and no caps.

    I don't see my new ISP coming up with reasons to charge me more every time I turn around.

    This is not to mention AT&T's far below sub-par customer service. Sometimes taking days to get a problem fixed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 21 Nov 2019 @ 10:04pm

    Lying doesn't count if your fingers are crossed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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