AT&T Loves the Google-Verizon Net Neutrality Pitch
By Jared Newman
I find it hilarious that the head of AT&T wireless referred to Google and Verizon’s net neutrality proposal as a “reasonable framework,” because for mobile broadband, it isn’t much of a framework at all.
On Monday, Google and Verizon announced a joint proposal to the Federal Communications Commission for how the Internet should be regulated. They argue that wired Internet users should be able to access all legal content without restrictions, and that carriers can be fined up to $2 million for blocking traffic or prioritizing one site’s traffic over another’s. They also argue that carriers should be able to create private channels for new kinds of “differentiated” services, which would run faster in exchange for a fee.
The catch is that Verizon and Google don’t want those rules to apply to wireless Internet, save for a commitment to transparency–in other words, no regulations for mobile “traffic management” whatsoever. Of course Ralph de la Vega, AT&T’s wireless chief, is behind that proposal, as Bloomberg reported. No regulation means more control for carriers over how consumers can use their smartphones and other mobile devices.
Wireless carriers argue that they need to manage traffic because there’s only so much bandwidth to go around, and the hogs need to be tied down. There’s also a limited amount of available wireless spectrum over which to deliver that bandwidth.
It’s a fair argument as the rise of smartphones pushes data consumption to the brink, but managed traffic on AT&T amounts to double-dipping. The carrier already limits data consumption to 2GB per month for all new contracts, before charging $10 for each additional gigabyte. Traffic management is built into the billing, so there’s no need to dictate how people can use their allotted bandwidth.
But that’s exactly what AT&T is doing now. The carrier blocks Android apps that don’t come from the official Android Market, and loads the phones with bloatware that can’t be removed without hacking. The former measure helps AT&T snuff out free tethering and other bandwidth-chewing apps, while the latter steers users towards functions that make more money for AT&T, such as Navigator and MobiTV. Both violate the net neutrality principle that users have control over the software their devices may run.
As long as that principle doesn’t become an enforceable rule for wireless Internet, AT&T can continue with business as usual.