AT&T and Free Press took the gloves off Tuesday as they continued to spar over the issue of paid prioritization of content.
Compromise language from industry representatives, including AT&T, on a legislative path to clarifying the Federal Communications Commission's Internet access oversight authority is likely to include an agreement that paid prioritization of service should be allowed, but with assurances that such prioritization does not come at the cost of the robustness of the public Internet.
In a letter to the FCC, AT&T took aim at Free Press's criticisms of paid prioritization, saying its statements were "grossly inaccurate" and advised the commission to treat with a healthy dose of skepticism any "opinions" it gets on technical issues from Free Press, which AT&T described as "an advocacy group with no demonstrable expertise or operational experience in those matters."
AT&T said that paid prioritization contemplated by the Internet standard-setting organization is already widely available from multiple providers, and is used by small businesses as well as the handful of giants, which Free Press maintains benefit from it.
Free Press research director Derek Turner shot back that AT&T's response was "confusing and misleading" and "conflating" paid prioritization, which it defined as "speeding up and slowing down" Internet traffic according to who pays more, with more accepted network management practices, which it said it does not oppose.
"The practice AT&T describes in its letter involves businesses purchasing dedicated access lines in the enterprise broadband market," said Turner. "This is a far cry from the harmful practice of paid prioritization that the FCC proposal would bar. The FCC's proposal would permit standard enterprise service-level agreements, but would prohibit ISPs from limiting consumer choice and stifling competition and innovation by charging third-party content, application or service providers for prioritized access to the ISP's subscribers."
The FCC proposed a ban on paid prioritization in proposing to adopt a fifth nondiscrimination principle as part of its October 2009 rulemaking proposal to expand and codify its network neutrality guidelines. Specifically, the FCC said that "a broadband Internet access service provider may not charge a content, application, or service provider for enhanced or prioritized access to the subscribers of the broadband Internet access service provider."
"Paid prioritization over Internet access is not, as Free Press maintains, some lurking future menace that would pervert the intent of the [Internet standards body]." said AT&T. "Accordingly, the Commission should reject calls from Free Press and others to ban or significantly restrict the provision of paid prioritization services."