ATandT Adds to Verizon, Google Net Neutrality Debate

ATandT waded into the network neutrality debate with a warning that unrestricted access rules for wireless networks would hurt users more than help them.

AT&T furthered the national conversation on net neutrality Aug. 13, with a post by its vice president of Federal Regulatory, Joan Marsh, who tried to clear up some "misinformation" regarding the issue.

On the AT&T Public Policy blog Marsh emphasized the differences between wireless and wireline networks, which she felt a recent Fortune article addressed well.

"The article's opening line sums it up: -Unrestricted access rules for wireless networks would hurt users more than help them. They just don't realize it,' " Marsh wrote. "We've been making this point for several months now but we can't emphasize it enough: wireless is simply different."

Marsh described wireless network use as exploding-thanks not only to the increasing use of smartphones, but to netbooks, e-books, e-tablets and navigation devices-and cited a growth forecast of reaching 86 million devices by 2014, up from 6 million in 2008. Further, she added, the 90,000 terabytes of traffic carried on wireless networks in 2009 will "mushroom" to 3.6 million terabytes per month by 2014.

She went on to say that finite wireless networks cannot match the capacity of wireline networks-which is to say, cable and DSL.

"The theoretical top speed of a LTE carrier is 100 Mbps. By contrast, theoretical transmission speeds on fiber can reach as high as 25 million Mbps," Marsh wrote. "The five extra zeros tell the story."

Marsh said there was "no silver bullet" to solve the capacity limit. But she said AT&T is doing its part by accelerating network efficiencies through "billions of dollars of" network upgrades; by capitalizing on complementary network infrastructure such as WiFi and microcells, by deploying more cell sites and adding capacity to backhaul facilities.

Regulators can help, Marsh believes, by keeping this work free of new net neutrality regulations.

"In order to provide consumers with the high-quality wireless broadband services that they demand," Marsh wrote, "wireless carriers must be able to dynamically manage traffic and operate their networks in an environment free from burdensome, arbitrary and unnecessary regulations."

On Aug. 9, on competitor Verizon Wireless' Policy Blog, Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, and Alan Davidson, Google director of public policy, offered an overview of the shared statement on network neutrality that they jointly submitted to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).

Teamed up, the executives said it was "imperative that we find ways to protect the future openness of the Internet and encourage the rapid deployment of broadband."

The same day, Copenhagen-based consultancy Strand Consult released what it described as an analysis of Google's position on net neutrality. It described Google as wrongly portraying itself as a defender of liberty on the Internet.

"In reality Google wants to abolish the concept of differentiated pricing for different types of services and by talking about net neutrality, Google is in reality misusing the sacred name of democracy as the foundation of their standpoint."

AT&T's Marsh added that she hoped an agreement on net neutrality could be worked out so that attentions could instead be focused on "a more urgent matter struggling for oxygen right now ... the National Broadband Plan." That plan seeks to extend high-speed Internet access to all Americans.