As AT&T disclosed at the Federal Communications Commission's summer hearing on network management practices at Carnegie Mellon University, it was rewriting its broadband service terms of service. The telco submitted them to the FCC on Thursday, and it looks like speed throttling is on the menu.
"In order to provide a consistently high-quality video service, AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet throughput speeds may be temporarily reduced when a customer is using other U-verse services in a manner that requires high bandwidth," the new language will warn. "This could occur more often with higher speed Internet access products. It may be necessary, for some AT&T High Speed Internet users, for AT&T to set a maximum downstream speed on a customer line to enhance the reliability and consistency of performance."
The disclosure concedes that these changes "will prevent some customers from obtaining the maximum downstream speed capability," but the overall speed will not be reduced from the tier that the customer purchased, promises AT&T. U-verse offers video, phone, and broadband services in a single package, all delivered over a phone line and powered by a fiber-to-the node system.
AT&T says these new conditions will go into effect starting October 18.
The company 's current terms of service for U-verse broadband mentions that throughput speeds "may be limited at AT&T's sole discretion, and such limitation will have no effect on whether the minimum speed is met." The telco's present contract terms for DSL say that "AT&T reserves the right to monitor or change your current plan speed at any time. No minimum level of speed is guaranteed."
This new agreement language takes a stab at explaining under what circumstances a customer's bit rate could be throttled, albeit a pretty general stab, the sort of stab that might be aimed at the heart and land instead on the big toe.
At least Comcast's new bandwidth cap policy sets a specific ceiling, 250GB, with a set of examples of how much data a customer would have to move to run afoul of the policy—20,000 high-res photos, 40 million e-mails, or 8,000 movie trailers.
Attack of the bloggers
Not surprisingly, blogging about this latest development has been quite brisk over the last few days. "Get ready to have your connection squeezed to a trickle," warns Gizmodo.
Public Knowledge's Mehan Jayasuriya suggests that the point of this new policy may be to get consumers to focus more on U-verse's TV services, in which AT&T has invested heavily. "If your Internet connection is slowed to a crawl, you're probably a lot more likely to put down the mouse and pick up the remote, which means more potential money in the bank for AT&T," he writes.
Ars contacted AT&T and was told by company spokesperson Brad Mays that the firm has no intention of "squeezing" its U-verse customers. "It's more a matter of the way data comes into and travels around a home," Mays said. "There are things (use of PCs, video, etc.) that can impact the throughputspeed a customer gets. We are not doing anything todegradethe speed, it’s just a fact of the way data travels."
The telco will start sending out customer notices this week, AT&T says. Customer e-mails will announce that AT&T has "added new language to the service description to more clearly describe how we provide your high speed Internet connection, and to explain what factors can affect the performance of your high speed Internet service."
AT&T's Vice President James W. Cicconi promises in the FCC letter that the company "will provide clear information about the capabilities of our service and any meaningful limitations on the service." We'll see whether the Commissioners, especially FCC Chair Kevin Martin, concur with the broadband giant's new standard for clarity.
AT&T's letter to the FCCPosted on