AT&T announced a new scheme today that allows app-makers and websites to pay for the bandwidth you consume using their services — a move digital rights activists say breaches the spirit of net neutrality.
“This definitely violates the spirit of network neutrality,” says John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge. “Once you have a data cap, set artificially low, that opens the door to all kinds of shenanigans.”
AT&T, however, touts the program as a “win-win” for business and consumers. Ralph de la Vega, the company’s chief executive, says applications with a “sponsored data” icon will allow consumers to “know the data related to that particular application or video is provided as part of their monthly service.”
By a 3-2 vote in 2010, the FCC adopted net neutrality rules, which became effective a year later.
The commission outlined three basic protections:
Wireless and wireline broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services. Wireline, or fixed broadband providers, may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
Finally, fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic. That rule, however, does not apply to wireless services.
Wireless was not included as a concession in a bid to get companies onboard.
Still, Verizon is challenging the the FCC’s rule-making authority before a federal appeals court. A decision is pending.
Net neutrality became a hot-button issue in 2008, when the FCC ordered Comcast to stop interfering with the peer-to-peer service BitTorrent, which can use a lot of bandwidth and is often associated with online piracy.