Our Commitment to the Open Internet

Posted by: Margaret Boles on September 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

It’s been five years since the term net neutrality entered the lexicon of beltway banter. Five long years of discussion, debate and disagreement, and guess what?  We are surprisingly where we began – squabbling over an issue that means different things to different people. The only constant is that, like most things in Washington, net neutrality has been based on winners and losers – as if there is some sort of mythical scorekeeper keeping tally.

Let’s be clear. The real winners should be American consumers. However, what real consumers want has often taken a back seat to the political rancor. That’s why we decided to personally reiterate to consumers our long-standing commitment to them and a set of standards geared towards addressing their needs. 

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Who Keeps Pulling
The Net Neutrality Football?

Posted by: Bob Quinn on September 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

As the dog days of Summer 2010 wind down and we begin the inexorable march towards Halloween, the Great Pumpkin and beyond, I have been thinking about the interesting places the net neutrality debate took us this summer.

We began the summer with FCC Chairman Genachowski proposing the Third Way to, in his words, “restore the broadly supported status quo consensus that existed prior to [the Comcast/BitTorrent decision].”

We endured the hand wringing by so-called public interest groups over the Chairman’s efforts to forge a compromise solution to this endless debate, the hyperventilating over the Google/Verizon proposal on net neutrality, and the disapproval of the Chairman’s desire to seek more information before making any critical decisions.

Now, Labor Day has come and gone and finally the hazy smoke of the DC Summer sun has cleared to reveal the three “must haves” those groups feel they must have to preserve their version of an open Internet:

  1. Some form of prior ban on paid prioritization services over Broadband Internet Access service;
  2. FCC authority designed to ensure the “robustness” of broadband Internet Access service in perpetuity;  and
  3. Identical net restrictions for wireline and wireless services.

The real eye opener to me though was how far this debate has wandered from the status quo that Chairman Genachowski described at the beginning of Summer (being praised for his efforts by these same folks).  And, in fact, it is still being praised.

Indeed when you examine these three new “must haves” from the NetRoots crowd, you realize that even full-blown monopoly-style Title II regulation would not give the FCC the authority to do what these folks now seem to think is essential.  And I begin to wonder whether Chairman Genachowski is starting to feel a little like Charlie Brown as NetRoots Lucy keeps pulling the football away from him just as he is about to kick it.

Now, if we look more closely at these three “must haves”, you’ll see what I mean (and once again I’m going to apologize in advance for my detour into arcane telecom jargon).

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The Summer’s Hottest Hotspot

Posted by: Joan Marsh on September 8, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Last month, Chicago’s Wrigleyville became the summer’s hottest hotspot.  Not because of the swinging bats of the Chicago Cubs.  And not because of the cool crowds gathering at Murphy’s Bleachers or the Cubby Bear.  On August 4, AT&T launched the Wrigleyville hotzone – a Wi-Fi installation in the shadow of Wrigley Field designed to enhance the AT&T wireless data experience in Wrigleyville.

The Wrigleyville hotzone is just one example of AT&T’s use of Wi-Fi to provide our customers with additional options for high speed data connectivity.  With more than 20,000 branded and operated U.S. Wi-Fi hotspots, AT&T has the nation’s largest Wi-Fi network, covering popular venues like restaurants, bookstores, hotels and airports.  Our Wi-Fi hotzone installations – including one in NYC’s Times Square, launched in May, and another in downtown Charlotte, N.C., launched in July – are now expanding that footprint.

The reason for these investments is clear:  customer demand for Wi-Fi is growing, shown by an exponential increase in Wi-Fi connections on our network.  We had 68.1 million connections on our network in the second quarter of 2010 alone, up more than 300% from the 15 million connections made in the same quarter last year.   And customers have already made 121.2 million connections in the first half of 2010, far surpassing the 85.5 million connections made in all of 2009.

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Unlocking the Potential
Of AWS-3 Spectrum

Posted by: Joan Marsh on September 2, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Yesterday, Chairman Genachowski removed from circulation the AWS-3 draft item, ending a long and largely frustrating debate about disposition of the AWS-3 spectrum at 2155-2180 MHz.  A mountain of paper was amassed over the question of whether the spectrum should be auctioned subject to a unique set of restrictions that would have limited the use of the spectrum to a single specialized business plan proffered by M2Z.  The FCC concluded, rightfully, that M2Z’s plan “was not the best policy outcome.”  We agree, and fully support the Chairman’s decision and his continuing leadership on effective spectrum policy for the 21st century.

AT&T has long opposed the M2Z proposal at the heart of the debate, which was built on a complicated set of restrictions that would require 25% of the licensee’s “network capacity” be used to offer “free, family-friendly broadband service.”  A myriad of questions arose around how the free service would be provisioned and supported, whether the quality of the free service would be acceptable and how the licensee would demonstrate compliance with the network capacity requirements.  The top downlink speed of the free service would have been 768K, and many worried that such a service would chase other providers of affordable, low-speed broadband services from the market, relegating an entire class of users to a technological backwater.

To make matters worse, in support of its business plan, M2Z proposed service and technical rules that would allow this unpaired band to be used for the delivery of two-way broadband services using time division duplexing or “TDD” technologies.  This proposal – which would allow the licensee to combine uplink and downlink operations in a single band – created the very real potential for harmful interference in adjacent AWS-1 bands.  M2Z specifically opposed restrictions on out-of-band emissions and power limits that would have guarded against this interference, arguing that those restrictions would degrade the service.  M2Z also opposed the use of appropriate guard bands – which have long been used quite effectively to address interference problems – calling instead for “cooperation and coordination requirements” to address the issue. 

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Narrowing the Debate
On Paid Prioritization

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on September 2, 2010 at 12:37 pm

As discussed in my last blog, for many years proponents of extreme versions of net neutrality regulation have fulminated against the practice of “paid prioritization.” In a recent series of letters, Free Press argued that the Commission should in no circumstances permit ISPs to be compensated for the provision of “router-based prioritization,” and that such prioritization is not taking place today.

At the time, Free Press was responding to a letter filed by the Minority Media and Telecom Council that urged the Commission not to adopt a blanket ban on payment for prioritization. According to MMTC:

“Today, when [businesses] sign up for Internet access service, many of these businesses also enter into voluntary arrangements with their broadband providers for the provision of enhanced quality of service capabilities as part of their Internet access service as well as other specialized offerings. These agreements allow [businesses] to identify a portion of their traffic as requiring better than “best effort” handling. This capability allows these businesses to ensure that the performance sensitive applications that they wish to run, such as VoIP or IP-based video conferencing, receive the service quality needed to function properly.”

Free Press responded at the time by insisting that such compensation arrangements were inconceivable under the IETF documentation for Differentiated Services (DiffServ).

Yesterday, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative (OTI) basically endorsed the practice described by MMTC. According to OTI: “[t]he intended purpose of DiffServ is user-driven differentiation of traffic.” It would seem that Free Press owes MMTC a clarification.

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