Monthly Archives: March 2011

The less known provisions of the new AT&T TOS

The caps are the biggest part of the new Terms of Service AT&T has released, but did you know that there are other provisions that are just as alarming?

One big one is mandatory binding arbitration. Arbitration is a private way of settling disputes without having to get the courts involved. Good in theory, right? Wrong:

The TOS also informs U-Verse users that if they agree to their AT&T contract they lose their ability to take part in a class action lawsuit, and instead must participate in binding arbitration — a process overseen by AT&T-hired companies where consumers lose more often than not.

And this isn’t the first time AT&T has decided to try these shenanigans. (Hopefully the SCOTUS will rule against AT&T and force them to permit class action lawsuits again.)

They can also now force you onto U-Verse if you have AT&T DSL, which means that if you can get service with a CLEC in your area, you may no longer be able to. For me, DSLextreme is the CLEC in my area, but my neighborhood can’t get service from them because of what I assume is U-Verse availability. Another way AT&T can force the competition out of the picture.

And AT&T can now terminate your service if you’re being impolite to the representative:

you engage in conduct that is threatening, abusive or harassing to the AT&T or Yahoo employees, including, for example, making threats to physically harm or damage employee or company property; frequent use of profane or vulgar language; or repeatedly contacting our customer service representatives for reasons that do not pertain to our provisioning, maintenance, repair or general servicing of your high speed Internet access service after you have been asked to stop such conduct.

Threatening violence at anyone is always a bad move, but would complaining about improper billing not fall under “general servicing” of your connection? I don’t think anyone knows.

Netflix adds options for capped users

Netflix recently added the ability to reduce video quality for their Canadian users. You may or may not know that Canadian ISPs have much lower caps than AT&T’s, so that very little Netflix usage would result in reaching their caps. They added the following three options:

  • “Good” – The default setting with good picture quality and lowest data use per hour (about 0.3 GBytes/hour)
  • “Better” – Better picture quality and medium data use per hour (about 0.7 GBytes/hour)
  • “Best” – Best picture quality and highest date use per hour (generally about 1.0 GBytes/hour – or up to 2.3 GBytes/hour when streaming HD content)

I wish they make this available to everyone, especially since US users will sadly probably need to use this soon. Does this mean Netflix is conceding the fight against Internet caps?

Sprint officially opposes AT&T/T-Mobile merger

Awesome. Sprint issued a press release today officially opposing the AT&T/T-Mobile merger:

The wireless industry moving forward would be dominated overwhelmingly by two vertically integrated companies with unprecedented control over the U.S. wireless post-paid market, as well as the availability and price of key inputs, such as backhaul and access needed by other wireless companies to compete.

Well said. I hope the FCC blocks this merger, but they won’t even consider it without your input.

Taking the pulse of the people

I was at a meetup catering to people in the startup community and metered Internet actually came up. I got a few things out of the conversation:

  • Yes, AT&T’s metering is an issue.
  • Yes, AT&T is probably doing this to make up for cord cutters.
  • A sense that the only people who’ll be affected are people who use BitTorrent (in other words, the “2%” AT&T referred to).

The one thing I didn’t get out of it was a sense of urgency, a sense that this was actually going to affect the Internet in a negative way. It almost felt like when you know something’s going to happen no matter what you do, so there’s not much point.

History is filled with people who, against all odds, fight for what’s right. How do you rally people when the arguments resonate, but the emotion is falling flat? Granted, it was probably not the best type of meetup to discuss this, but if I’m having problems convincing technologically proficient users, how do I convince everyone else? The answer is there somewhere–I just need to find it.

Update: cancelled AT&T today.

TWC installed service today, and so far so good. I was chatting with the installer as he set up my cable modem and it turns out that he indeed heard about AT&T’s caps. He was shocked that AT&T would institute such a thing, which is good to know. For the cynical, he could have also heard about it from TWC management, who want to increase their share of subscribers, but I prefer to think positively. :)

After he left, I called AT&T to cancel service. After being on hold for over 20 minutes (after the computer at the other end claimed “up to 10 minutes”), I finally got a representative. She was actually very nice, but didn’t hear anything from her managers about the cap thing. I didn’t have too much hassle canceling, except for having to drop off the equipment at the UPS Store afterward.

The point of this? The best way to fight this is to make your voice known in the best possible way. Since I had an uncapped cable ISP available to me, that was to switch to said ISP. Making our voices known will make them listen.

AT&T meters off by 4700 percent!

I meant to write about this but didn’t have much time until today. Life keeps going even when in the cause, you know?

Anyway, it turns out that myusage.att.com is currently off by up to 4700%. This is one of the things that I asked about in the open letter, and I’m saddened that I’m being proven right. Imagine how much of a hassle it will be to prove that you didn’t use 4700% more data than AT&T says you did.

Press your representatives at the state level to get third party auditing in place, and keep fighting the good fight. :)

BitTorrent CEO talks about bandwidth caps

Eric Klinker, Bittorrent’s CEO, wrote an article on the myths and realities of network congestion. In short, the real problem isn’t that people are using terabytes of bandwidth each month, but when that bandwidth is being used:

A fixed-cost network is analogous to a highway system. Highways must be designed to handle peak traffic, which in most cities is rush hour.

This establishes the initial cost of building out the highway network. When traffic grows, new lanes have to be built and new costs are added to the equation. It is not the 2 percent of cars using the empty roads at 4 a.m. that creates the demand for new lanes.

It’s the same for your ISP’s network. On your ISP’s network, “rush hour” is called “peak time,” with congestion usually occurring between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. The capacity required to handle these peak times sets the cost benchmark.To continue with the highway analogy, would rationing gas or capping miles on everyone’s odometer solve rush hour traffic?

No, of course not. People would still prioritize use of their car and precious miles to get to and from work. They might take fewer road trips on the weekends when the roads are already clear. Rush hour would still exist, and the road would be no cheaper to build or expand. Likewise, bandwidth caps won’t relieve congestion at peak times.

It’s pretty much why Netflix sometimes has more trouble with streaming during peak Internet usage times: because everyone’s at home trying to use it then. Definitely recommended reading.

Letter response watch: one week in

I can’t believe it’s already been a week since I sent the letter that started it all. Since then, I’ve been learning more and more about the cause and am now convinced, more than ever, that this is something worth fighting for.

So far? No response from any AT&T representative (as of March 23rd).

Did they receive the letter? They most likely have, judging by typical USPS delivery times. Did they write a response, or are they planning on writing one? I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t ever respond. A form letter would be above my expectations.

Even if they respond, they’ve lost me as a residential Internet customer forever. Not that I’m going to use anywhere close to 250GB, but just the fact that this was even proposed is sketchy. Hell, if I could choose between more than two Internet providers, they probably wouldn’t be able to keep this up for long because of the fact that someone would continue to offer capless Internet. But since telephone and cable TV are natural monopolies, they should either be regulated as such (government approval required for rate increases, the whole nine yards), or they should be forced to give access to other ISPs.

I’m not so sure about 3G data caps, though. AT&T might have somewhat of a justification because of the iPhone placing so much load on their network, and the laws of physics aren’t going to change to grant more spectrum any time soon. (Also, the prepaid iPad plans won’t actually let you accrue hundreds of dollars of data usage unless you continue to put money in, but the postpaid plans will.) It still would be nice if tethering didn’t result in extra fees, since it’s not like they’re different forms of IP data anyway, and if the caps went up as people moved to LTE. I guess this is a part of my philosophy I’ll have to develop over time.

I’m going to post a letter update once a week until I receive a response. I’ll set a “cap” (see what I did there?) of three more weeks, but I’m honestly not expecting a response. Best thing I can do is continue to update this blog and provide support for the movement :)

The Internet is not a trusted network

Mistakes happen with any corporation, but AT&T having network packets bound for Facebook routed through China?

Typically AT&T customers’ data would have routed over the AT&T network directly to Facebook’s network provider but due to a routing mistake their private data went first to Chinanet then via Chinanet to SK Broadband in South Korea, then to Facebook. This means that anything you looked at via Facebook without encryption was exposed to anyone operating Chinanet, which has a very suspect Modus operandi.

Not good. We don’t know for sure if it was an AT&T screwup, or if it was something worse, so I can’t speculate. However, if AT&T continually made mistakes like this, it would be nice to be able to switch to another provider with competent network admins.

(BTW, this is why I love the Internet’s inherent transparency and its ability to readily display information like this. And you should probably be using Facebook in SSL mode anyway, but that’s a different subject for another time.)

How the iPhone led to the sale of T-Mobile

The New York Times has an insightful article about what went wrong for T-Mobile:

But after the iPhone went on sale, sold exclusively at first by AT&T in the United States, T-Mobile USA began to lose its most lucrative customers, those on fixed monthly plans, who defected to its larger American rivals — AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which began selling the iPhone in February.

With most mobile phone launches, the phone is generally exclusive for only a few months at most. The iPhone being exclusive for almost five years in the US, after most other countries lost their exclusivity agreements, is the most telling part about AT&T (and Apple’s) behavior. Sad, really.