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AT&T Patent Mocks Net Neutrality, Wants to Charge Extra for Certain Data

AT&T's new patent is a harsh wake up call that details how it could penalize its users for "misusing" its network should net neutrality regulations vanish.
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It's been less than a month since a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. delivered a devastating blow to the FCC's net neutrality rules, and despite AT&T's reassurances that it would remain committed to an open Internet, a new patent suggests otherwise. The patent, which is innocently named "Prevention of Bandwidth Abuse of a Communications System," details how AT&T wants to monitor the type of data its users consume and penalizes them with increased fees based on their usage.

AT&T as Judge and Executioner

In the patent, AT&T describes a credits system it would use to monitor bandwidth. "The user is provided an initial number of credits. As the user consumes the credits, the data being downloaded is checked to determine if it is permissible or non-permissible." Non-permissible data includes file-sharing, movie downloads, and downloading/uploading large files, the patent states. So what happens when users consume too many non-permissible credits? The patent suggests restriction policies be applied including "levying additional fees and/or terminating the user's access to the channel."

In other words, this patent lets AT&T cut you off, slow you down, or charge you extra if it deems you're misusing its network. So that all-day House of Cards marathon you were planning for February 14 could either have you booted or levied with a fine.

The patent also gives AT&T the right to scan data and decide what users can or can't do on its network. The more a user "abuses" its network, the more credits a user can lose. On the other hand, users who do right by AT&T would be granted additional credits so they can continue accessing the Internet.

A Dark Future for the Internet

Fortunately, this patent is currently just a concept and will not be implemented in the near future. However, it's a clear indicator of the dangerous territory we've now entered as the fight for net neutrality continues. It also demonstrates how, if net neutrality were to be completely eradicated, consumers would be at the mercy of their ISPs. Whether or not TimeWarner and Comcast have similar ideas brewing behind closed doors remains to be seen, but for a company that was supposedly committed to an open Internet, this paints a bleak future indeed.


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With over a decade of experience covering technology, Louis Ramirez has written for CNET, Laptop, Gizmodo, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @louisramirez.
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14 comments
weiliwang
@ GeorgioP - What you're referring to is also a growing problem for American consumers, but it's not the same as net neutrality.
GeorgioP
It's Not just a Concept. AT&T is charging DSL Customers $10 for time that they go over 150GB\month\billing cycle\usage cycle. I am getting the threats already. Thing is, when I look at their numbers of my usage, they are wayyy off. There was a day where I turned off my DSL router for 24 hours, and on the data usage, three days later reported that I downloaded 4GB on that day and uploaded .7GB!
weiliwang
While many other developed countries are using their limited resources to increase bandwidth and expand their broadband network, here in the good ol US of A, we are developing new ways to squeeze more pennies from consumers.
jcauthorn
@Greg - I wouldn't say different kinds of data (per se) make an impact, it's more different kinds of _traffic_ that impact an ISP.

For instance, DDoS, spoofing, Spam!, trojans, viruses and similar types of traffic have a very negative effect on the ISP's network as well as our connection and usage.

Under net neutrality, would those types of traffic be given the same access and priority as your traffic? I'd hate to take away an ISP's ability to fight against that kind of nasty traffic, rather than being REQUIRED to treat it neutrally. I can't think of a worse outcome than that kind of government regulation. Technical issues require technical solutions, -not- government regulation.

Yes, it's fixed wireless.
Greg the Gruesome
Speed/bandwidth aside, do different kinds of data impact an ISP's network differently?

@jcauthorn "my internet comes from the top of a local grain silo"

Fixed wireless?

Also, I think the last time I saw all-you-can-eat in a restaurant was in the episode of The Simpsons in which Homer eats that seafood restaurant into going out of business. :P
jcauthorn
@cjthev - are ISPs allowed to block illegal content? If data runs across the network they own and support, isn't it their choice what they allow across it? I'm not saying the buffet is a perfect example, but in this case, the restaurant may choose what they do and do not provide as food options, thereby limiting your choices so in fact "you can only eat this". ;)

There's really a much better option - it's called "competition" - which is probably why you read dealnews. ;)

Nothing works better to get a vendor in a competitive environment to change than to lose business.
cjthev
The point here is that ISP's should not be allowed to decide WHAT you can do with your internet. If they provide unlimited internet, it should be unlimited, period. They shouldn't be able to say, it's unlimited, but you can't watch Movies or download big files. Going back to your buffet, it's all you can eat, not "you can only eat this". If they want to charge more for more GB per month, that's one thing altogether different. They want to say you can't do what you want with the service you are buying. If they block movies and torrent, nothing is in the way to keep them from blocking content from competitors.
dealnews-Lindsay
@jcauthorn I'm not arguing with the point you're making about internet service
jcauthorn
@Lindsay - my point exactly. Your internet doesn't NEED to be good, for many people it just has to be enough for Facebook and email and to stream YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. I've got a 1.2mbps internet and it works fine for those. I'd love to get more if I could, but it's amazing speed for living miles out in the countryside, where my internet comes from the top of a local grain silo - I'm not making that up.
dealnews-Lindsay
@jcauthorn There are many reasons why the quality of food at an all you can eat isn't good, predominantly because it doesn't NEED to be good. The draw for many people is the number of options available.
jcauthorn
@Lindsay - So tell me what your favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant is, and how much it costs. Now tell me your favorite regular restaurant and how much it costs. Now, please compare the quality of the food. Do you notice any difference? Do you ever eat at restaurants that cost less than the all-you-can-eat restaurant? How about the quality difference there? How much money do you save eating there?
jcauthorn
If you want to hide your data from your ISP you can use TOR or Proxy. Problem solved.
Worried about missing out on that all day Firefly/Serenity marathon (I've done that!)? Most ISPs allow you to pay more for more use, or you can shop around - isn't shopping around just what DealNews is all about anyway?
Competition and educated consumers are the *ONLY* thing that will simultaneously increase quality/quantity -and- reduce cost. Government regulation (or the pretty term "net neutrality") always has the opposite effect. Please don't fall for destroying the internet with government regulation!
dealnews-Lindsay
@jcauthorn I see your point, but I don't think that actually happens with all you can eat restaurants.
jcauthorn
How often do you go to an "all you can eat" restaurant? Ever notice that the food typically isn't as good as more expensive restaurants? Ever wonder why? A lot of the people who go there eat more than their fair share, causing the restaurant to either increase the price or lower the quality (D'oh!). Many ISPs provide "all you can eat" internet, and for the same reasons, find they have to either lower the speed or amount, or raise prices. What if those people were instead charged based on how much speed/data they used and YOU could pay less and get more? Wouldn't that be great?
These kind of technological challenges should be handled by technological fixes and not these pretty sounding words for Government Regulation called "net neutrality".
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