Open letter to AT&T’s CEO

March 16, 2011

Randall L. Stephenson
c/o AT&T, Inc.
208 South Akard Street
Dallas, TX 75702-4206

Dear Mr. Stephenson:

I am writing to you in regards to your company’s announcement on March 13th stating that AT&T’s DSL and U-Verse services will be restricted to 150 and 250 gigabytes (GB), respectively, beginning on May 2nd, 2011. As a U-Verse subscriber, I am disappointed and concerned that AT&T has decided to go in this direction.

My first concern is that AT&T may be taking this step to protect its U-Verse TV revenue. Pay TV services such as Netflix are growing rapidly, and Netflix usage now corresponds to 25% of US Internet traffic during peak usage periods. With the caps that will be put into place, a U-Verse subscriber can watch serveral hours of high-definition (HD) programming per day from Netflix before hitting the 250 GB limit. In the future, Netflix may begin to stream at higher rates to take advantage of higher quality content, significantly shortening the amount of programming that can be watched before overages start to be accrued. Because of this, in the future, a typical family may end up finding it cheaper to simply purchase TV service from AT&T than to pay Netflix for the content and AT&T for the connection.

As a provider of Internet services, it is AT&T’s obligation to ensure that all network traffic is treated the same way. Favoring one class of traffic (U-Verse TV) over a competitor in an attempt to gain a monopolistic foothold is not only wrong, it is illegal under US law. Treating traffic from different sources differently is also a violation of the Federal Communications Commission’s network neutrality regulations recently put into effect. Will AT&T increase the caps as Internet technology improves and as your company upgrades its infrastructure?

It is also AT&T’s obligation to educate users as to why bandwidth caps are necessary. The statement put out by your company says that two percent of AT&T subscribers use most of the traffic on your network. What types of traffic are these users using? Is it all coming from and going to a certain company or
companies? Is said traffic even legitimate? The Terms of Service agreement that subscribers to most Internet providers agree to states that using the network for illegal or abusive activity is grounds for termination; if these users are abusive as your company states, why has their service not been terminated?

My second concern is to how this traffic will be counted. How will subscribers know that the traffic displayed on the Web site is correct and accurate? Will this be audited by a third party? Will there be
information available that will give subscribers confidence knowing that AT&T’s depiction of the amount of traffic they are using has not been altered in any way?

There are also numerous viruses and malware currently on the Internet, infecting users’ computers without their knowledge. Some of this malware effectively makes your computer into a file server, and if users are not made aware of this in a reasonable amount of time, their computers can use a significant amount of the
bandwidth cap before they can be cleaned. On your company’s Max Turbo plan, malware can use the entire cap in less than 24 hours. Will AT&T promptly alert subscribers to potential irregularities in their Internet traffic so that action can be taken before users go over the cap? What if they had already gone over the cap twice and received warnings from your company? They will not receive any further grace period before charges begin accruing. In the previous example, someone who has already used 100GB for the month can easily be charged $30 for the first day the malware is on her machine, and $50 per day thereafter until the machine’s fixed. This doesn’t include any normal traffic the user uses for the remainder of the month. Will there be a way to forgive these extra charges or reset the grace period in the event of a malware or virus attack?

Without the answers to the above questions, many users probably will pay closer attention to the amount of data that they are using. However, there is going to be little motivation to come out with the next greatest Internet invention, since few will use it if they’re going to end up being charged significant amounts of money by their Internet provider. As a result, the US will fall further behind in Internet innovation and threaten our dominance in the tech field. That will be the greatest tragedy of usage-based billing.

Because of all of the above, I am now considering switching back to the only other Internet provider in my area: Time-Warner Cable (TWC). I originally switched to AT&T U-Verse because U-Verse TV was better than TWC’s offering and because I could get faster speeds with AT&T than I could with TWC. Neither is relevant if I cannot use my connection without having to be concerned about what kinds of sites I’m visiting and what kinds of services I’m using. In fact, there is a thread on (a broadband discussion forum) where people have
already left AT&T because of this issue. This thread is located here. If I (and others) do not receive satisfactory answers to our concerns, then I, and others, may be forced to switch to alternative Internet providers.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope your company takes the above into consideration before proceeding with this change to our service.


Mooneer Salem

  1. Letter response watch: one week in | Stop it, AT&T. - pingback on March 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm
  2. AT&T meters off by 4700 percent! | Stop it, AT&T. - pingback on March 26, 2011 at 10:48 am
  3. AT&T’s caps start tomorrow. | Stop it, AT&T. - pingback on May 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm

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