Cable Tech

Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) have publicly stated opposing views on dealing with copyrighted content that runs over their networks. (See AT&T to Filter Traffic?)

Speaking to the New York Times Tuesday, Verizon's executive vice president for public affairs Tom Tauke said: "We generally are reluctant to get into the business of examining content that flows across our networks and taking some action as a result of that content."

Tauke said Verizon is reluctant to police its network because of customer privacy issues, being held liable for missing copyrighted content, and the slippery slope of having to identify what should be blocked and what shouldn't.

AT&T, though, has a different take on the issue. Back in January, the operator's CEO Randall Stephenson told a conference at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland that AT&T was looking for ways to block the distribution of copyrighted material on its network. He equated the carrier's situation to "like being in a store and watching someone steal a DVD. Do you act?"

The main difference between the two carriers' positions is that AT&T is trying to figure out ways in which it could act proactively against illegal content, while Verizon only wants to act when a copyright issue is brought to its attention.

AT&T's position doesn't necessarily imply filtering content, but it is looking for ways to actively deal with piracy.

But is this difference in positioning more a difference of opinion, or a difference in network capabilities?

A popular theory on why AT&T would be more proactive in blocking copyrighted content is that it's looking for ways to reduce congestion on its fiber-to-the-node (FTTN) network.

Verizon meanwhile, doesn't face the same bandwidth issues on its fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) FiOS network.

But while capacity differences could be influencing the carriers' positions, it's likely more to do with content formatting than bandwidth, says Tom Nolle, CEO of CIMI Corp. , a technology research and consulting firm.

Since AT&T's U-verse network is all IP based, everything is transmitted in IP packets. "If I'm sending video out in packet form, someone can intercept that packet and digitally copy it," notes Nolle, who believes content owners will be seeking assurances from AT&T that it can cope with the piracy issues that its network architecture raises.

"Verizon, on the other hand, is an RF overlay, and doesn't come in IP packets, so it has no more risk than cable. AT&T may feel it has to be more proactive because the way it's delivering video is more susceptible," adds Nolle.

In fact, AT&T's bandwidth deficiencies compared to Verizon aren't even much of an issue when it comes to the huge amount of copyrighted content being shared on its network, suggests Nolle. That's because a heavy peer-to-peer (P2P) user has an unusual amount of uplink activity, and U-verse, unlike cable, offers symmetrical bandwidth.

"A single file-sharing user is going to produce a disproportionately large strain on uplink resources. But all fiber remotes and DSLAMs in RBOC DSL video are fed by Sonet with symmetrical bandwidth, so it's rather unlikely that a file sharer would do anything to an AT&T network that would have an effect on U-vere's behavior," says Nolle.

Eventually, both carriers could be forced to deal with the copyrighted content issue head on. As studios push the idea of watermarking copyrighted content, it becomes more and more difficult for a carrier to pretend to be ignorant of illegal content passing through its pipes.

"This notion of watermarking digital video to provide a mechanism to determine whether something was copyrighted or not would present a double barreled dilemma to carriers, because if it contains something that makes it easy to tell, then are you liable," suggests Nolle.

"It's the same thing as renting an apartment to someone who is running a drug operation when you know exactly that's what they're going to do," he adds.

When asked for comment, AT&T said in a statement: "Fair protection of intellectual property and copyright is critical to continued innovation —- be it from large media companies, smaller content providers, or individual artists and entrepreneurs. We have said categorically that we do not intend to be an enforcement agent or a policeman for content transported on our network."

AT&T added: "We want to set the record straight that we have not said we are going to filter, and in fact, there is no technology solution available at this time. What we have said is that we are working with some in the content industry on the very real issue of piracy that has raised costs for all Internet users. It is our hope that this relationship leads to encouraging the legal downloads of movies, TV shows, and other entertainment and content."

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

fgoldstein 12/5/2012 | 3:48:23 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection En la tierra de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey...

Verizon here is showing a small dose of common sense. ATT's accomplishment is being so senseless that it makes such a simple act look monumental. Once in a while, having lawyers run a company is better than letting cowboys in charge.

There are statutory protections for ISPs regarding subscribers' content. When Verizon got its common carrier status overturned, they did not waive their CDA and ECPA protections. So unless/until they actively start making "editorial decisions", they're not culpable for users' content, though they must respond to takedowns on what they host.

ATT seems to ignore all of that. They're such total control freaks that they seem willing to become owners of their subscribers' messages. This can dramatically increase their own risk of liabiility, even as they degrade the value of service to their users (even to non-pirating users, since content filters always have false positives, are costly, and impede new applications).

My guess is that Randy is sucking up to the Tellywood crowd, who detest the Internet as much as he does. He hopes they give him a lower price for cable-type content. As a newcomer to cable service, ATT has to pay a negotiated rate for TV channels, and they may be trying to sell Internet filtering as a trade-off for lower per-channel prices. It's a dumb idea, to be sure, but it might provide a motive.

Verizon is just being prudent. Big Bill and Tough-talking Tom are smart lawyers, and know a bad idea when they see one.

[translation: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king.]
palaeozoic 12/5/2012 | 3:48:22 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection First, letGs dispense with most of Mr. NolleGs remarks. The RF portion of VZGs network is not the issue; itGs the IP portion present on every broadband network that is.

Second, letGs not invent a new vocabulary so that we can avoid using the word Gfilter.G Any solution that intends to block illegal content must, by definition, look at all content. ThatGs filtering.

Third, both analogies (theft of a DVD or a drug operation in an apartment) are faulty. A better analogy is FEDEX. Does FEDEX ship illegal content? Absolutely. Does anyone care? No, because the cost of preventing it (inspecting the content of every package) is too high and unacceptable.

VZ and T should focus their businesses on delivering services the way FEDEX does. Offer better quality for people willing to pay more. And donGt even think about policing content.
DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 3:48:21 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection re: "A better analogy is FEDEX. Does FEDEX ship illegal content? Absolutely. Does anyone care? No, because the cost of preventing it (inspecting the content of every package) is too high and unacceptable."

I do love the Fedex analogy, but are AT&T and VZ really as ignorant of the content traversing their networks as is Fedex?

Seems certain types of traffic -- giant files with P2P protocols -- would be akin to a Fedex driver seeing a package that's bomb-shaped with a lit fuse sticking out of it?

Yes, I said bomb-shaped. I still think in cartoons.


palaeozoic 12/5/2012 | 3:48:20 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection Phil, good points. Bomb-shaped packages aside, I think the Fedex analogy still works. Fedex knows what he needs to know about the content in order to deliver a reliable service (e.g., how big, how important, how soon do you need it to get there?). It doesn't really need to know what's in the box.

Carriers could take a similar view in dealing with traffic over their networks--how much traffic, how fast, how important--and charge appropriately. Net neutrality idiots might have trouble with this but that's the way the rest of the world operates. Even Google--I pay more for my ad and it shows up higher on a search page.
miaroper 12/5/2012 | 3:48:16 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection Seems to me we're mixing two things here. There is an IPTV service where the TV service providers (AT&T & Vz) are providing a TV service over a broadband infrastructure. This is usually logically separated from the internet broadband pipe (either by RF overlay-Vz or VLAN-AT&T). There are ways to secure that content using DRM and you can also use some network based multicast whitelists to limit the physical streams each house has access too.

P2P traffic is on the broadband segment and what is traversing over the internet partition of your broadband pipe is independent of the content deals related to the IPTV portion of your broadband pipe.

So are we really talking about AT&T & Vz securing the TV/Movie content that they distribute as part of their IPTV service or are we talking about sniffing into the internet broadband pipe to see what illegal goods are being transported ?

In the latter case I totally agree with the FedEx analogy. It simply is uneconomic to sniff every packet (Sandvine, Allot, Ellacoya & P-Cube might disagree :), not with standing the joy of end to end encryption obfuscating everything. The ony thing you can do is look to hueristic traffic pattern matching to detect 'abnormal' upstream behaviour, but once you start down that path you start to stifle user generated video content distribution and it's a slippery slope from there...
danielpitt 12/5/2012 | 3:48:03 PM
re: Verizon, AT&T Differ on Content Inspection This is why we need pure bit-transport carriers. I am happy to pay for a service level I require but the carrier has no business understanding what I am sending or to whom. Bundling content with transport has held the U.S. back in residential broadband. If it takes the government (hopefully local) to foster an open market in bit transport so be it.
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