October 20, 2014

AT&T Wants to Charge Extra for Certain Kinds of Internet Use

at&t sign

It’s only been several weeks since an appeals court ruled against the FCC’s net neutrality rules, and already AT&T is maneuvering itself to take full advantage.

Net neutrality is basically the principal that all data on the Web should be treated equally. From an Internet provider’s perspective, it means not charging differently for different users, content, sites, platforms or applications.

But AT&T has reportedly filed a new patent which, if implemented, would monitor customers’ Internet bandwidth and charge depending upon the type of use.

Called the “Prevention of Bandwidth Abuse of a Communications System,” the patent lays out some ideas for how Internet access should be handled that worry net neutrality and small business supporters. Deal News has a good summary of what the patent entails:

“The user is provided an initial number of credits. As the user consumes the credits, the data being downloaded is checked to determine if it is permissible or non-permissible. Non-permissible data includes file-sharing, movie downloads, and downloading/uploading large files, the patent states. So what happens when users consume too many non-permissible credits? The patent suggests restriction policies be applied including “levying additional fees and/or terminating the user’s access to the channel.”

Yes, you read that right.

What you do online could now be viewed, monitored and assessed by the telecom company, and any unapproved activity could result in extra bills, or even losing your Internet connection completely.

However, for small businesses, the problem is less about the prying eyes of your Internet provider, and more about the extra business overhead you could unintentionally incur. From your perspective, you could be looking at higher charges if, for example you upload a file to your website that AT&T thinks is too large, or if you try to share too many files with a customer or client.

This could really affect you if you rely on say, cloud storage services to move large files and images around. The possible implications came out recently in a post by blogger David Raphael when he noticed a slowdown of access to Amazon Web Services.

In this case, the carrier in question was Verizon, but the company denies it has limited users’ access.

After the federal appeals court made its ruling, the Senate introduced legislation to keep net neutrality in place temporarily, until a more permanent fix can be found.

Back when net neutrality was just starting to be an issue, Small Business Trends Founder and publisher Anita Campbell identified the central concern for small businesses:

“…can certain providers block our access to lawful Internet content or services — or force us to pay a variety of extra gatekeepers in order to use features of the Internet or get preferred treatment. Any of these moves would put small businesses at a distinct disadvantage. Without an open-architecture Internet, we small businesses would not have a level playing field to compete with larger and better funded competitors.”

Net Neutrality Photo via Shutterstock

10 Comments ▼

Mark O'Neill - Staff Writer


Mark O'Neill Mark O'Neill is a staff writer for Small Business Trends, covering software and social media. He is a freelance journalist who has been writing for over 25 years, and has successfully made the leap from newspapers and radio onto the Internet. From 2007-2013, he was the Managing Editor of MakeUseOf.com.

10 Reactions

  1. Currently in my geographical haunts T-Mobile has the best service. Unlimited 4G with no throttling whether it be 50GBs or 5,000GBs per month. AT&T closed me down after only 3GBs, pretty much after my first streamed movie over netflix, and then claimed all sorts of crap depending on the service tech I spoke with. The unlimited 4G is $70 a month with T-Mobile. For now anybody with a modicum of intelligence should look into AT&T alternatives, which there are a lot of, and switch. Show AT&T their customers are not all living in the matrix.

    • I think the only way AT&T will think twice about this is if people vote with their wallets/purses and their feet. I think just the threat of that might be enough. However, it depends on how easy it is to move companies, whether some folks are locked down on a contract, etc.

      • Possibly,

        However, I think the voting with your money doesn’t have was much impact as people like to think.

      • I hear you, Chris, but I don’t know if that is or isn’t the case. What’s your proof that it doesn’t have as much of an impact? I’m not saying you’re wrong, by the way.

      • But if we cannot do anything, does that mean that we should just let this happen? Have people prying on how we use the Internet as well as limit what used to be free? I think this is enough to get everyone on their toes to make a plea.

      • I think it’s better to do something than nothing at all, even if it ends up not having much of an impact. It’s better to try.

        But, you know, it’s up to every individual whether they choose to do something about it or not. Each to their own.

  2. Wait, can AT&T really do that? Can they really push that through? And if they can, imagine the companies that’ll follow suit.

    This is NOT good. Not good at all.

  3. Unless someone steps in to support Net Neutrality this will become more and more common. It will soon start to look like the airline fee model where you really never know the true cost until after it’s too late.

    • FCC Chairman Tom Weeler is a former Lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry. Not sure why this is surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. Soon it won’t just be AT&T. What surprises me most is that people who work in tech (IT, Web Development, etc…) are mostly oblivous to it. I can understand why most small businesses don’t understand the threat. Computer networking is mystery to most.

      What Anita says is true, small businesses will see higher prices for hosting and access. The playing field will not be level. Imagine the political ramifications as well.

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