AT&T Supports Fast Lane Bans With Loopholes

In its filing with the FCC about Chairman Wheeler's proposal to allow ISPs to charge content providers for faster direct access to customers, AT&T said it supports the ban of fast lanes… as long as there are some major loopholes. Naturally these loopholes would benefit AT&T's broadband and wireless businesses.

AT&T, like Comcast, is taking an amicable position because it wants the FCC and other government regulatory agencies to approve its merger with DirecTV (in Comcast's case it is seeking approval for a merger with Time Warner Cable).

In its filing with the FCC, AT&T said that the agency can ban fast lanes ("paid prioritization") without reclassifying broadband and by keeping its light touch regulation policy towards wireless established by the Open Internet Order of 2010.

"AT&T has no intention of creating fast lanes and slow lanes or of using prioritization arrangements for discriminatory or anti-competitive ends, as some net neutrality proponents fear. And AT&T does not oppose reasonable rules designed to protect against such conduct," the company wrote.

AT&T goes on to say that the FCC could implement a fast lane ban and still comply with the court ruling it lost against Verizon. In that case the court said that the FCC had no authority over broadband companies because they are not classified as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act.

But AT&T says that the FCC could accomplish this "by concluding that paid prioritization is a per se commercially unreasonable practice under the theory that it threatens the open Internet."

But then AT&T says that "User-directed prioritization, as distinct from paid prioritization arrangements, would remain permissible."

AT&T sees "user-directed prioritization" as different from "paid prioritization." Here's what it has to say about that topic:

This approach would permit user-directed prioritization as well as other individualized arrangements that are commercially reasonable and that do not involve prioritization of packets. Broadband Internet access providers could, for example, enter into commercially reasonable arrangements to host edge-provider content within their networks or to provide transit services. Likewise, subject to user direction and without any prioritization, a broadband Internet access provider could allow an edge provider to pay for an increase in the maximum bandwidth available to a customer; this would allow that edge provider to transmit at a higher speed than would otherwise be available under the customer’s chosen broadband speed tier, obviating the need for the customer to pay for a higher-speed service just to obtain a better experience when using a particular application. Additionally, an ISP might enter into arrangements that provide incentives for edge providers to transmit their traffic during non-peak hours.

In short, there are many innovative arrangements that would still be permissible, provided that they were commercially reasonable. Broadband Internet access providers accordingly would not be categorically prohibited from entering into individual relationships with specific edge providers or compelled to carry edge providers’ traffic on identical terms. Indeed, the Commission would not be banning all prioritization arrangements as an undifferentiated whole, but instead would be imposing restrictions on when such arrangements may be used (i.e., at the direction of the end user). In that way, the rules would be akin to time, place, and manner restrictions—not a broad, unqualified per se common-carriage obligation.

In addition to avoiding being treated as a "common carrier," AT&T wants the light-touch net neutrality rules to remain the same.

"Mobile networks face spectrum constraints, a shared 'last mile' radio access network, and other impediments that make it far more challenging to provide mobile broadband than wireline service," the company said. "These factors create capacity and quality-of-service challenges for mobile broadband Internet access providers that are particularly acute in the 'last mile' radio access network. To ensure high-quality service for all customers, mobile providers need greater flexibility in how they address congestion over their networks—particularly in the 'over-the-air' segment. Intrusive net neutrality rules that hamstring mobile providers’ efforts to grapple with such network management challenges would degrade the quality of mobile service for all users."

You can read AT&T's comments on net neutrality in this blog post and in this FCC filing.

Source: Ars Technica

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