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Net Neutrality: AT&T blocks unwanted traffic types in their mobile network

Many critics of the EU Telecom Package have feared that the principle of Net Neutrality will be undermined and abandoned. One example of this is TeliaSonera, which has blocked VoIP and P2P file sharing in their cheaper Swedish data plans Mobilsurf Bas and Mobilsurf Alltid.

In May, AT&T also limited their mobile data traffic. In their new user terms AT&T states that email access, mobile surfing, and intranet access is allowed. Downloading music one has paid for is also allowed. But AT&T has banned resource hungry applications such as P2P file sharing, using your smartphone or netbook as a server for applications or running programs that require a constant connection. AT&T has received the most criticism for stopping streamed TV from the competitor Slingbox while allowing their own service AT&T Mobile TV.

I am skeptical about these user terms. AT&T already has a 5 GB/month traffic cap and if they want to limit the traffic more they can introduce cheaper plans with lower caps and charge for the data traffic in increments.

It is unclear if these bans are actually enforced in the network or if this is just rhetoric to scare users that their subscription might be cancelled if they abuse their data plan. From a customer service perspective it is insane to combine unclear rules with threats of arbitrary harassment of customers who use their data plan in the “wrong” way.

That operators offer different service bundles and prices should be fairly uncontroversial. What makes the debate about Net Neutrality so heated is the suspicion that the open character of the Internet will be undermined in a way that will eventually create a closed “cable TV style” network with massive censorship of communication and freedom of speech and that this will hamper new innovations.

I realize that operators have a legitimate interest in segmenting the market and charge more or less depending on the amount of traffic different customers generate. If the operators want to expand this service segmentation they have to disarm the debate about Net Neutrality themselves.

This can be accomplished in two ways. The first is to aggressively oppose all proposals of censorship from political right and left-wingers (for example with lobbying and PR-budgets of the same size as the marketing budget). The other way is for the telcos to accept open layered business models (e.g. unbundling the local loop) in order to avoid being perceived as threatening monopolists with a closed business model.

This article has previously been published on my Swedish blog.

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