AT&T's sponsored data plan: Who, us, violating net neutrality?

Paying customer data fees NOT slippery slope to multi-tiered internet, says firm


+Comment AT&T is playing down concerns that its sponsored data program violates the principles of net neutrality.*

The plan, in which content providers are able to foot the bill for wireless broadband access to their services, has been advertised by the company as a benefit for customers who will be able to access premium services without using up their wireless data allocations.

To some critics, however, the plan is toeing a dangerous line by allowing companies improved access to customers. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California noted that the plan raises serious concerns over competition.

Eshoo said in a canned statement:

The announcement of a sponsored data program by AT&T puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the Internet, threatening the open Internet, competition and consumer choice. It’s exactly why net neutrality rules came to exist in the first place and why these rules should apply equally to all forms of broadband Internet service.

On its face, the ability for consumers to access 'toll-free' content seems like long-awaited relief from frustrating data caps. But embedded in programs of this type are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace. And we must ask just how beneficial a program like this is to consumers who could ultimately foot the bill for the added cost of doing business.

The concerns were later noted by US Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler, who said that while the FCC does not currently seek to intervene, it will be keeping an eye on the matter and stepping in if it sees AT&T violating open internet principles.

'We see no reason why this is not a good thing'

Meanwhile, AT&T is maintaining that its plan does not violate net neutrality and simply seeks to provide a way for customers to get more wireless broadband access to services.

"It allows any company who wishes to pay our customer’s costs for accessing that company’s content to do so. This is purely voluntary and non-exclusive," AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs Jim Cicconi said in a statement provided to The Reg.

"It is an offering by that company, not by AT&T. We simply enable it. The bottom line is that this can save money for our customers. We see no reason why this is not a good thing."

Comment

While AT&T claims that technically its service does not violate to network neutrality, there is little doubt that the Sponsored Data service flies in the face of the spirit and core ideals of the concept.

Indeed, offering companies the ability to pay user tariffs is a far cry from building a multi-tiered internet. All customers maintain access to the same internet and nobody is forcing customers to visit the sponsored sites.

However, in rolling out sponsored data, the company has the makings of a de facto "pay to play" system in which sites and services will be able to purchase a distinct competitive advantage by gaining preferred status as a "toll free" broadband destination. All things being equal, users will opt for the site which will not count against their data caps, and smaller companies could be forced to pony up to AT&T in order to compete.

What's more, the plan comes off as a attempt by AT&T to commoditize its users. In addition to paying for access to the company's network, AT&T customers are in turn being sold off to companies eager to gain preferred status with a potential audience.

While the sponsored data program may toe the line on the technical definition of network neutrality, AT&T is laying waste to the basic principle that a network service provider should give equal access to services and platforms.

AT&T is making an end-run around the technical definition of net neutrality while undermining its fundamental aim. This is not illegal and to many users it may not be morally or intellectually problematic. But if the company is going to sell off priority access to its network and subscriber base, "neutrality" is the last word it should associate itself with. ®

* The FCC's four principles "to ensure that providers of telecommunications for Internet access or Internet Protocol-enabled (IP-enabled) services are operated in a neutral manner" - PDF

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • FCC: Applications for funds to replace Chinese comms kit lack evidence
    Well you told us to rip and ... hang on, we're not getting any money?

    The saga of the US government's plan to rip and replace China-made communications kit from the country's networks has a new twist: following reports that applications for funding far outstripped the cash set aside, it appears two-thirds of such applications lack adequate cost estimates or sufficient supporting evidence.

    The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) informed Congress that it had found deficiencies in 122 of the 181 of the applications filed with it by US carriers for funding to reimburse them for replacing telecoms equipment sourced from Chinese companies.

    The FCC voted nearly a year ago to reimburse medium and small carriers in the US for removing and replacing all network equipment provided by companies such as Huawei and ZTE. The telecoms operators were required to do this in the interests of national security under the terms of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act.

    Continue reading
  • SpaceX: 5G expansion could kill US Starlink broadband
    It would be easier to take this complaint seriously if Elon wasn't so Elon

    If the proposed addition of the 12GHz spectrum to 5G goes forward, Starlink broadband terminals across America could be crippled, or so SpaceX has complained. 

    The Elon Musk biz made the claim [PDF] this week in a filing to the FCC, which is considering allowing Dish to operate a 5G service in the 12GHz band (12.2-12.7GHz). This frequency range is also used by Starlink and others to provide over-the-air satellite internet connectivity.

    SpaceX said its own in-house study, conducted in Las Vegas, showed "harmful interference from terrestrial mobile service to SpaceX's Starlink terminals … more than 77 percent of the time, resulting in full outages 74 percent of the time." It also claimed the interference will extend to a minimum of 13 miles from base stations. In other words, if Dish gets to use these frequencies in the US, it'll render nearby Starlink terminals useless through wireless interference, it was claimed.

    Continue reading
  • EnemyBot malware adds enterprise flaws to exploit arsenal
    Fast-evolving botnet targets critical VMware, F5 BIG-IP bugs, we're told

    The botnet malware EnemyBot has added exploits to its arsenal, allowing it to infect and spread from enterprise-grade gear.

    What's worse, EnemyBot's core source code, minus its exploits, can be found on GitHub, so any miscreant can use the malware to start crafting their own outbreaks of this software nasty.

    The group behind EnemyBot is Keksec, a collection of experienced developers, also known as Nero and Freakout, that have been around since 2016 and have launched a number of Linux- and Windows-based bots capable of launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks and possibly mining cryptocurrency. Securonix first wrote about EnemyBot in March.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022