AT&T Sets Up Internet Tollbooths
The telco giant's product development and sales teams are now busy designing “packet prioritization” products for sale to content providers that depend on AT&T last-mile networks to deliver services to consumers. Such products reserve a “fast lane” on AT&T's networks for the safe and speedy transit of traffic from whichever company is paying the toll.
Put more simply, AT&T’s new products will give preferred treatment to some Internet services over others. And defenders of network neutrality fear that the services of smaller content providers that cannot afford to pay QOS (quality of service) fees might become less available to consumers. (See QOS Fees Could Change Everything and Crocodile Tiers.)
“We're developing new IP managed services which will give content providers the high-quality, high-bandwidth transport they increasingly need to deliver video streaming and other bandwidth-intensive applications and services to their customers,” said AT&T spokesman Dave Pacholczyk in an email response to a Light Reading inquiry last week.
“I’ve got no specifics on what those product lines or those services might look like or anything,” Pacholczyk wrote. “We have had discussions with content providers, as we’ve said in the past, for these kinds of services.” (See Net Neutrality Debate Wydens.)
AT&T officials complain of receiving more and more Internet traffic from “originators” like Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) while being compensated under "existing peering agreements,” according to a note from UBS Research . Like its phone company peers, AT&T sees the new packet prioritization products as a means of making back some of that lost revenue. (See Policy Control Heats Up.)
The carrier believes its offer of an “end-to-end” service-level agreement (SLA) will be attractive to many Internet content providers, especially those that deliver content to wireless devices. AT&T hopes the product will also increase uptake among content providers of its hosting and transport services, the UBS analysts write.
AT&T officials discussed its packet prioritization plans during its February 23 analyst briefing, and now that the company is striving to merge with BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), the implications of those products and services will be noticably broader. (See Ma Bell Is Back!.)
The telcos and their trade-group representation in Washington have long said they “have not and will not” block or degrade any type of legal Internet traffic. Their critics believe the new fees are but passive ways to control and monetize Internet traffic flowing over the networks they control. (See Light Readers Favor QOS Fees.)
“The BOCs... are looking for ways to make packet prioritization look legitimate,” says Voice On the Net (VON) Coalition president Staci Pies. “Creating artificial bandwidth scarcity by saying that the ‘new, upgraded’ fiber Internet is available only to application providers that are willing to pay for higher levels of quality of service is one way.”
Verizon spokesman David Fish says his company has no plans for setting up QOS fee arrangements with Internet companies, although Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg has come out in favor of the practice. AT&T has also made sharp statements about its right to the QOS fees, and is proving to be more aggressive than its peers in putting the words into action.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading