AT&T Forgets They Began the Network Neutrality Debate – Then Calls People “Conspiracy Theorists” for Pointing It Out

Sounds like somebody just realized that they’re sitting on top of a public relations nightmare …

Consumer group Free Press is apparently hitting some of AT&T’s buttons this week, if this missive from AT&T lobbyist Hank Hultquist is any indication. Hultquist this week attacked the consumer group as a purveyor of “Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories” for a recent letter the group wrote to the FCC that points out how AT&T’s long-standing dream of “paid prioritization” could be bad for consumers. In it, Free Press notes they don’t oppose intelligent network management, just paid prioritization:

In a network where congestion is a somewhat rare occurrence, paid-priority treatment holds little value for third parties. Allowing ISPs to abuse their terminating access monopoly power by charging for paid prioritization directly produces the incentive to create scarcity. Policies that reward and encourage a steady state of scarcity are of course not a recipe for closing the digital divide through buildout and network expansion.

AT&T retorted by trying to conflate QOS network management (which, especially in more intelligent modern incarnations, few if any oppose) with paid prioritization, or an ISP charging content companies an extra surcharge if they wish to have their content reach AT&T customers more quickly. AT&T also accuses the group of being inconsistent conspiracy theorists — simply for pointing out AT&T’s long-documented ambitions on this front:

One sometimes hears…that the introduction of paid prioritization would enable ISPs to turn best effort Internet transmission into a “dirt road” and force virtually the entire Internet ecosystem to “pay extra” for prioritized transmission. Why would ISPs require such an elaborate scheme to raise rates if they have the market power attributed to them by the CoENN? Yet now Free Press seems to suggest that ISPs would restrict prioritization to only a few “deep-pocketed Internet giants.” While I enjoy the Da Vinci Code conspiracy theories as much as the next blogger, I do expect at least some superficial consistency.

Why would an entrenched, incredibly powerful duopoly carrier impose an “elaborate scheme” to milk more money out of consumers and businesses that already pay for bandwidth? To make more money, of course. While the Free Press is certainly known for occasional hyperbole, suggesting that AT&T could abuse their market position using paid prioritization certainly isn’t conspiracy material. It’s not even controversial.

AT&T enjoys ignoring this fact: AT&T started the entire network neutrality debate in 2005 by proclaiming that they were going to charge content companies (who already pay for bandwidth) an extra, nonsensical toll to reach AT&T customers quickly. Thanks predominantly to lobbyist distortion, the debate has grown into a ridiculous, often-incoherent monster since then. However, it should be remembered that it was AT&T’s vocalized desire to act as a bridge troll that began the network neutrality debate, and the original goal of network neutrality rules was to prevent AT&T from abusing its duopoly/monopoly power to extort passers by.

Update: The IETF also thinks AT&T’s conclusions are misleading:

The current chair of the IETF, Russ Housley, disagrees with AT&T’s assessment. “AT&T’s characterization is misleading,” Housley said. “IETF prioritization technology is geared toward letting network users indicate how they want network providers to handle their traffic, and there is no implication in the IETF about payment based on any prioritization.”

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