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AT&T Devises Entirely New Wireless Troll Toll
Wants App Makers to Pay for Lower Impact on User Cap
by Karl Bode 12:02PM Monday Feb 27 2012
In 2005 then-AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre told Business Week that because people use Google, Google should help pay for AT&T's network deployment (or as Ed put it, Google "ain't usin' his pipes for free"). ISP executives have long tried to offload upgrade expenses on to others, adding a new content toll despite the fact both content companies and consumers already pay a considerable sum for bandwidth. Whitacre's comment triggered years of ugly network neutrality debate, and now AT&T is back with another idea.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, AT&T's planning a new service whereby content or app developers could somehow pay for their app to have a reduced impact on user caps. AT&T technology boss John Donovan tries to sell the idea to the Journal as sort of a 1-800 toll free line for data or "freight included" for developers. The idea, pitched first by AT&T to a friendly outlet, remains a muddy AT&T board room pipe dream at the moment:
"A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage," Donovan said on the sidelines of a mobile-industry conference here. It's far from clear how willing technology companies would be to pay wireless carriers for data use. Mr. Donovan said there was interest from companies who could use the feature to drum up new business from customers wary of using data-heavy services like mobile video.
While this sounds slightly different, this is still AT&T's dream vision to retain control by imposing strange and unnecessary new tolls on the companies using their network. Years back, AT&T wanted to charge content makers a toll so their traffic saw network priority. In this new idea, AT&T wants to charge content or app makers a toll so that their apps have less of an impact on a user's cap. The end result is the same, with AT&T imposing bizarre tolls on content companies to obtain preferred customer status, picking winners and losers while retaining power in the wireless ecosystem.

It's an idea we're sure AT&T will pitch as a cost-saving endeavor for consumers, but given this is AT&T, you'd be naive to think cost savings will be in the equation. You'll still pay the same data rates, content companies will now just pay a fee to obtain preferred "reduced cap impact" status, then pass the higher development costs on to you. It's a ridiculous and dangerous idea, and the fallout will likely be similar to AT&T's "free ride" comments. AT&T executives either don't care how bad these ideas make them look, or don't realize it thanks to too many isolated meetings at headquarters packed with telco-think yes men.

Eventually you start to think that AT&T executives should just stop thinking before they hurt someone or themselves. If AT&T put half as much energy into running a top-flight network with quality support as they did cooking up hare-brained troll toll schemes -- they might just stop coming in last place in all major customer satisfaction studies.

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Tuscaloosa, AL

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What a scam!

In AT&T's insatiable thirst for more profits and to screw everyone over at the same time, this is pure genius.

Remember when we discussed caps, and people said that, over time, as data consumption continued to increase and the cost of data to the wireless and wireline carriers decreased, caps should be adjusted upwards? Yeah, right! With this little gem of a scheme, AT&T will do no such thing. They'll simply tell content providers that, if they want their customers to be able to reach them with their ever-shrinking caps (if data use increases and caps remain the same, they'll effectively shrink in terms of their usefulness), then they'd better be prepared to pay the carriers. And, as time goes on and people feel the squeeze of the caps more and more, the pressure will increase on content providers to pay up.

Ain't it funny how these companies could somehow make boatloads of money off of Internet users for years with no caps, and now, suddenly, they just can't seem to break even without them?

EDIT: It just occurred to me that this is an even lousier deal than I'd previously thought. See, if we look at the current caps, then you as a customer would only pay overages if you exceed them. However, with this scheme, the content providers will pay that additional fee when you interact with them, whether you've reached your cap or not. And, as you can imagine, they're going to pass that cost back to you one way or another, so you're essentially paying for exceeding your cap even if you don't actually exceed your cap. Pretty slick on AT&T's part, don't you think?