Category Archives: Open Letter

US to investigate bandwidth caps

Evidently caps are a problem after all, since the US government is now going to investigate cable providers’ use of them to stifle Internet video.

Anyways, this is good, but what would be better is to not have the conflict of interest in the first place. ISPs should only be in the business of transmitting and receiving bits for its customers, but that won’t happen as long as there’s a mono/dupoly on broadband.

Evidently the FCC is…

pro-cap.

Not that it should be much of a surprise to anyone (since the people on the FCC have come from telecom companies in the past and all) but yeah.

AT&T’s caps start tomorrow.

Sadly, AT&T’s still going through with their ill-thought broadband cap plan. I kinda figured this would happen, but man, this sucks. And because of the lack of competition in the US ISP space, shareholders of Time Warner Cable and other capless ISPs will get pissed off unless they adopt caps too. The upside is that 250GB seems to be the number that doesn’t piss people off. For now.

Because of this, I’m not going to rely on TWC to remain capless for long, really. I have a plan to possibly bring much better Internet access to the condominium complex that I’m an owner in, but I’m still working out the details and I still need to sell the Board on it. I’ll keep you all updated.

(BTW, it’s been 46 days without a response)

Screw it, we lost.

AT&T released their earnings results yesterday, and I noticed this:

Wireline Broadband Growth Remains Strong. Driven by strength in AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet service and standalone broadband, AT&T posted a 175,000 net gain in wireline broadband connections. About two-thirds of consumers have a broadband plan of 3 Mbps or higher.

I have two words: screw it, we’ve already lost. (Okay, that was five words.) We lost the cause when Comcast put forth a soft cap several years ago with seemingly little fanfare, but we didn’t realize it at the time. With the current broadband market in the US, fighting the carriers directly has little chance for success at this point. I fully expect TWC and any other capless providers that remain in AT&T’s service areas to implement caps within the next year or two, probably along with the rollout of DOCSIS 3.0. What is there for us to do, stop using the Internet?

The fact that people are still purchasing Internet access from AT&T means that either people don’t give a crap about the caps, or have no idea about them/are being convinced by AT&T representatives to sign up anyway. I know that the retentions person I talked to when I cancelled was not aware that they were going to institute caps, so it is within the realm of reason that AT&T has talked people out of cancelling.

At this point, the only way we can turn back the tide at this point is to put pressure on our government to force carriers with monopolies to open their lines to competition. No amount of boycotting is going to do anything unless it actually affects AT&T’s bottom line; they’re simply too big for only a few people to change things. However, this doesn’t mean that you should stop boycotting them; on the contrary, you should continue to no longer purchase services from them, if at all possible. (By the way, I still haven’t received a response to my letter, and doubt I ever will.)

That said, this site is going to be much more than against caps now, with the AT&T and T-Mobile merger awaiting approval from the regulatory agencies. I’m still going to update the list of capless ISPs as the providers announce their policy changes, and I’ll still post news about AT&T’s caps. But now the stakes are much bigger: to stop Ma Bell’s monopolistic behavior.

Week 2: no response

Yep, no response to my letter. With less than a month remaining until the caps go live, they should be answering some of the concerns outlined in it instead of adding even more doubt.

Or maybe they’re focusing all their efforts at providing more accurate metering (that’s what I’m hoping for, anyway, despite my cynicism.)

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 ūüôā

How you can help

Here’s a few things you can do to help:

  • Cancel ALL AT&T services and switch to alternatives, if possible. If you can only get AT&T DSL and you need Internet at home, drop to the lowest possible AT&T plan that you can get. Make sure to tell the representative that their bandwidth caps are the reason why you are ending service so that this can be relayed upward, and make sure to treat the person you’re talking to well–they’re not the ones in charge of policy.This will have two effects: a) to reduce your liability in case you do go over the cap, and b) reduce the amount of revenue AT&T gets from you, the subscriber.
  • Contact your representatives in Congress (House; Senate) — let them know that you want the federal government to encourage broadband competition and that you want federal regulators to be much tougher on our telecom oligarchy.
  • Contact your representatives at your state’s legislature. They will be able to put pressure on AT&T and others through the Attorney General and by enacting state-level programs to increase telecom competition.
  • Join Stop The Cap and help with them their efforts.

Together, we can get people’s attention and protect our Internet.

Letter mailed

I mailed the letter via USPS today. It should get there within a few days. Then, we see if they respond.

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 http://myusage.att.com/ 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 dslreports.com (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.

Sincerely,

Mooneer Salem