Skip to main content

AT&T Bans Wireless P2P

Washington -- AT&T bans wireless phone subscribers from using file-sharing applications and threatens to terminate service of anyone caught doing so, the company told an FCC official on Friday.

"AT&T's terms of service for mobile wireless broadband customers prohibit all uses that may cause extreme network capacity issues, and explicitly identify P2P file sharing applications as such a use," said Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs.

Quinn's disclosure came in a letter to FCC Republican member Robert McDowell, who had asked about AT&T's policy regarding P2P traffic over its wireless network at an FCC forum in Pittsburgh on July 21.

On Friday, the FCC is expected to vote that Comcast Corp. "secretly degraded" some P2P Internet traffic in violation of FCC policy set in August 2005.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin insists that Comcast has been blocking P2P traffic of BitTorrent users while the cable company claims it delayed only uploads during peak hours to reduce congestion.

In the letter, Quinn said his company does not use "network management tools to block the use of P2P applications by its mobile wireless broadband customers."

Instead, he said the company warns customers in writing that they would jeopardize their relationship with AT&T Wireless if they were caught using banned P2P applications.

"Under these terms of service, which are similar to those of other wireless providers, use of a P2P file sharing application would constitute a material breach of contract for which the user's service could be terminated," Quinn said.

AT&T's justification for banning P2P applications was similar to Comcast's rational of managing (but not banning) P2P uploads.

 "A small number of users of P2P file sharing applications served by a particular cell site could severely degrade the service quality enjoyed by all customers ... " Quinn said.

AT&T, he noted, has not terminated anyone because "the vast majority of our customers abide by their contractual commitments."

Martin, who has been warring with cable for more than three years on a number of fronts, told reporters on July 11 that Comcast had, in his view, violated the agency's net neutrality principles adopted August 2005.

On the day the principles were adopted, Martin said in a prepared statement that they were not rules and not enforceable.

FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein are expected to join Martin to guarantee the outcome against Comcast.

McDowell indicated in an Op-Ed in today's Washington Post that he plans to vote against Martin's proposal. FCC Republican Deborah Taylor Tate has not gone on the record with her views.

Martin wants the FCC to order Comcast to cease targeting P2P traffic, as well as comply with reporting requirements to help the agency verify compliance.

Martin said he would not seek to impose financial penalties on Comcast.