AT&T Vows Disclosure


AT&T is promising to introduce in the fall new consumer-disclosure policies related to the capabilities of its broadband network and the rights of customers using the network.

“We, hopefully, will be able to roll out amended terms of service, perhaps some documents that are not legal contracts but actually understandable documents that we can have for customers,” said AT&T senior vice president of federal regulatory affairs Bob Quinn.

Quinn spoke last Monday night at a Federal Communications Commission forum on future trends in the digital broadband marketplace.

The event occurred just weeks before Aug. 1, when FCC chairman Kevin Martin wants the agency to brand Comcast an Internet outlaw over its management of peer-to-peer traffic. Martin’s indictment of Comcast includes the allegation that the cable operator failed to notify customers of the steps it takes to manage P2P traffic.

Quinn maintained the demand on broadband networks was surging so fast that AT&T was financially incapable of increasing its network capacity to keep pace.

FCC officials, he said, need to let AT&T and other broadband providers “manage their networks to squeeze out every last ounce of efficiency that we can in order to keep the cost to the end-user customers as affordable as we can possibly make it.” He didn’t define what he meant by “manage.”

AT&T last Wednesday said it ended the second quarter with 14.7 million “total broadband connections,” up just 46,000 new customers. Quinn said AT&T spent more than $17.5 billion on capital expenditures in 2007 to try to keep up with a 400% increase in Internet backbone demand over the past three years.

Quinn said AT&T would emphasize three principles in new disclosure policies still being developed.

One, he said, will state that AT&T “supports our customers’ right to free expression.”

A second will provide “clear information” about network capabilities and “any meaningful limitations that we have on that service.”

The third principle would reflect the company’s decision to provide consumers with access options based on the network speeds they desire, not on bandwidth consumed.

“When we provide broadband services based on speed, we will do so in discrete tiers that are disclosed to our end-user customers,” Quinn said.

AT&T’s approach would depart from Time Warner Cable’s test in Beaumont, Texas, where new customers face a per-Gigabyte fee for exceeding their plan’s monthly download cap, ranging from 5 to 40 Gb.