AT&T Concessions Bode Well For Consumers And Businesses Alike - InformationWeek

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12/29/2006
02:43 PM
Alice LaPlante
Alice LaPlante
Commentary
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AT&T Concessions Bode Well For Consumers And Businesses Alike

The long dragged-out battle over net neutrality took a decisive turn last week. Anxious to push through the largest telecom deal in U.S. history by the end of the year, AT&T made some serious concessions to the critics of its proposal to buy BellSouth. Most notably, the telecom giant assured members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it will not discriminate--either positively or negatively-

The long dragged-out battle over net neutrality took a decisive turn last week. Anxious to push through the largest telecom deal in U.S. history by the end of the year, AT&T made some serious concessions to the critics of its proposal to buy BellSouth. Most notably, the telecom giant assured members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it will not discriminate--either positively or negatively--in the quality of service it provides to any users of its network.Here's the actual paragraph in the letter of commitment filed with the FCC late last week that couldn't have been clearer on this point (boldface mine):

    AT&T/BellSouth also commits that it will maintain a neutral network and neutral routing in its wireline broadband Internet access service. This commitment shall be satisfied by AT&T/BellSouth's agreement not to provide or to sell to Internet content, application, or service providers, including those affiliated with AT&T/BellSouth, any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet transmitted over AT&T/BellSouth's wireline broadband Internet access service based on its source, ownership or destination.

Naturally, AT&T is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart. Since one of the merger's supporters, FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, announced that he would not vote due to ethical considerations, the firm had no way in Hades of getting the FCC's approval without the support of the two Democrats on the commission, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. Both were resolutely opposed to the deal without some assurances that the merged telecom behemoth wouldn't put the interests of certain content, application, or service providers ahead of others.

Craig Matsumoto over at Light Reading provides a thorough analysis of what the concession does and doesn't cover.

But like other bloggers, he generally concludes this is a major victory for those who have been pulling for all Internet traffic to be treated the same.

What's your reaction to this news? Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing for consumers? businesses? that AT&T has offered to make these concessions? Let us know by responding to the InformationWeek Weblog below.

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