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AT&T: Wireless Is 'Different'
In which AT&T gives that speech about growing wireless demand. Again.
by Karl Bode 10:05AM Monday Aug 16 2010
As we noted last week, AT&T stayed largely quiet when Verizon and Google announced their network neutrality agreement, not wanting the deal telecom tango to be seen as a plan hashed out by only the debate's wealthiest participants (which it was). So, even though the framework gave AT&T everything they wanted (no wireless neutrality, a weak FCC, paper thin rules) AT&T figured they would stay quiet.

That didn't last. AT&T's now put a blog post up entitled "Wireless Is Different," which complains there's a lot of "misinformation out there about this issue," which AT&T will be happy to clear up for you. AT&T pulls out their well-used speech about how mobile data use is exploding (I think we get it already, guys), and argues that because wireless networks are more bandwidth-contained, it makes better sense to skip wireless when/if we impose network neutrality rules. Says AT&T's Joan Marsh:
Pitted against this insatiable demand are wireless networks of finite and shared resources. Wireless networks simply cannot provide the same amount of capacity as wireline networks (i.e., DSL and cable). Fiber is to a wireline network what spectrum is to a wireless network, and as a transmission medium, the two simply do not compare. The theoretical top speed of a LTE carrier is 100 Mbps. By contrast, theoretical transmission speeds on fiber can reach as high as 25,000,000 Mbps. The 5 extra zeros tell the story.
While wireless is different, that's certainly no reason to have no consumer protections of any kind (outside of some meager transparency requirements). AT&T, Verizon and Google have constructed a false choice between either no neutrality rules for wireless -- and an imaginary future where any effort to protect wireless consumers ends up in sector collapse. You'll note the companies intentionally ignore the fact that you could have neutrality rules for wireless that take into account the need for intelligent congestion management systems.

AT&T just doesn't want consumer protections for wireless. Why? They might prevent AT&T from crippling vendor handsets so users are forced to use AT&T bloatware, or forcing users to pay more for certain services. Consumer protections also might prevent AT&T from blocking applications that either compete with their own services, or say the services of a giant preferred advertising partner with a colorful and whimsical logo. Such protections might restrict AT&T's shiny new pricing model as well, which involves fairly unreasonably-low caps of 200 MB and 2GB.

Sure, wireless may be different, but AT&T's love of using capacity as a bogeyman to justify any and all behavior remains the same, whether we're talking about wireless or wireline networks (you'll of course recall the AT&T-funded Exaflood myth). Of course this discussion really isn't about capacity, given regulators could easily craft rules that allow for intelligent network congestion management. The discussion is about protecting consumers from AT&T's bad behavior. It's also simply about money. It has always been about money.

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