AT&T, Free Press Trade Punches Over Paid Priority

AT&T and Free Press took the gloves off Tuesday as they continued to spar over the issue of paid prioritization of content.

language from industry representatives, including AT&T, on a
legislative path to clarifying the FCC's Internet access oversight
authority is likely to include an agreement that paid prioritization
of service should be allowed, but with assurances that such
prioritization does not come at the cost of the robustness of the public

In a letter to the FCC,
AT&T took aim at Free Press criticisms of
paid prioritization, saying its statements were "grossly inaccurate"
and advised the FCC to treat with a healthy dose of skepticism any
"opinions" it gets on technical issues from Free Press, which AT&T
described as "an advocacy group with no demonstrable
expertise or operational experience in those matters."

says that paid prioritization contemplated by the Internet
standard-setting organization is already widely available from multiple
providers, and is used by small businesses as well as the
handful of giants Free Press says benefit from it.

Free Press
Research Director Derek Turner shot back that AT&T's response was
"confusing and misleading" and "conflating" paid prioritization, which
it defined as "speeding up and slowing down" Internet
traffic according to who pays more, with more accepted network
management practices, which it said it does not oppose.

practice AT&T describes in its letter involves businesses purchasing
dedicated access lines in the enterprise broadband market," said
Turner. "This is a far cry from the harmful practice of paid
prioritization that the FCC proposal would bar. The FCC's proposal
would permit standard enterprise service-level agreements, but would
prohibit ISPs from limiting consumer choice and stifling competition and
innovation by charging third-party content, application
or service providers for prioritized access to the ISP's subscribers."

proposed a ban on paid prioritization in proposing to adopt a fifth
nondiscrimination principle as part of its October 2009 rulemaking
proposal to expand and codify its network neutrality guidelines.
Specifically, the FCC said that "a broadband Internet access service
provider may not charge a content, application, or service provider for
enhanced or prioritized access to the subscribers of the broadband
Internet access service provider."

prioritization over Internet access is not, as Free Press maintains,
some lurking future menace that would pervert the intent of the
[Internet standards body]." said AT&T. "Accordingly, the Commission
should reject calls from Free Press and others to ban or significantly
restrict the provision of paid prioritization services."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.