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AT&T: Premptive Strike On Paid Prioritization Could Hurt Broadband Plans

AT&T continues to make its case for paid prioritization of Internet traffic, saying there is growing consensus on the issue, and the telco has made an appeal to some critics of its position for direct talks.

Prioritization is one of the issues that put a crimp in Federal Communications Commission efforts to midwife compromise legislative language among stakeholders, including AT&T, on clarifying the agency's authority over Internet access service.

In a letter to the FCC Wednesday, the company outlined areas where it said there was agreement between it and net neutrality regulation backers Open Technology Initiative and the Center For Democracy and Technology based on letters from OTI and CDT to the commission. There appeared to be lots of them, from AT&T's perspective.

But the big difference remains that those groups want a ban on paid prioritization for third-party content on an end- user's last-mile connection, while AT&T is strongly opposed to a preemptive ban, invoking national purposes like remote healthcare it says could be thwarted by a preemptive ban.

CDT, for example, explains that the distinction is between user-requested payments and contracts to which that end user is not a party prioritization, which it finds "unobjectionable" and prioritizing traffic to that user according to "payments and contracts to which that end user is not a party," which it opposes.

"[T]he ban they seek would have the perverse effect of preventing the introduction of new, pro-consumer services that could further the Administration's and Congress's goals," said AT&T, including "through telemedicine; education through distance learning; the environment through telecommuting; and many other national imperatives."

But the letter mostly focused on what the company saw as areas of "apparent agreement."

Those included that 1) existing prioritized service --so-called managed Internet services -- are OK; 2) payment for prioritization is permissible; 3) that both intranetwork and end-to-end prioritization are allowable; 4) end users can mark packets for prioritization; and 5) AT&T's managed services are consistent with its merger commitments in the BellSouth merger.

"AT&T believes that there is growing consensus on the pro-consumer benefits of Internet traffic prioritization and much more agreement than disagreement when it comes to the merits of such prioritization. To the extent OTI and CDT (or other parties) are interested in continuing this dialog," said the company in a letter addressed to all of the FCC commissioners, "we would encourage them to contact us directly so that we can mutually explore constructive solutions regarding these important issues."

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.