Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

AT&T's hidden agenda...AT&T doesn't like a decision by the FCC in America, so it is trying to sneak in changes to European law that will compromise net neutrality. It wants  to prevent European regulators from regulating fairly on peer-to-peer filesharing traffic. It is also trying to sell its global Internet services to the content industries.

The AT&T amendments being promoted around the European Parliament have a hidden American agenda. It concerns a ruling made by the American regulator, the Federal Communications  Commission (FCC) against the network operator Comcast, in August last year. The effect of the  ruling is that ISPs cannot filter peer-to-peer traffic, or indeed, they can't pick on any specific type of traffic and filter or slow it down or ‘restrict' it.

AT&T, and its partner Verizon, wants to prevent a similar regulatory decision happening in Europe. So it is trying to get the law changed.  And it has targeted the Telecoms Package, currently about to enter the Second Reading in the European Parliament.  It wants  changes to Article 22(3) of the Universal Services directive, and associated Recitals, as I have previously reported. The impact of these changes would not only be negative for net neutrality. They would mean that European national  regulators would not have the power to intervene in cases where peer-to-peer traffic is being throttled or restricted, or where any type of content or service was blocked. Nor would the pan-European regulatory body or the Commission have any power.

The FCC ruling was made

against the network operator, Comcast. The FCC said that Comcast's network management practices, which involved slowing down and restricting access to peer-to-peer services, were anti-competitive and discriminatory.

AT&T argues that competition law will deal with  situations where services are being blocked, but it fails to mention that competition law only applies where commercial services are involved, and where it is obvious that they are being targetted. It also fails to mention that one of the regulator's roles is to oversee  competition in the telecoms sector.

The penny dropped  when I was going back over notes from some  telecoms industry webinars. The telcos were asking questions about reguatory intervention if they implement deep packet inspection equipment. The answer was that in the US, it was a problem because of the Comcast ruling, but outside the US, it wasn't.

In Europe, AT&T doesn't provide services to homes. Its services are entirely for businesses which have private networks, and other ISPs. Its European customers include the Williams Formula 1 team, Siemens, Hyundai, IBM, and Equifax (marketing company which deals in personal data).   AT&T runs a global Internet backbone network, which connects national and local Internet networks, as well as corporate networks on all five continents. AT&T is promoting its services to the media and content industries for broadcast TV and content distribution. Thus, what AT&T is allowed to do in Europe will be very important. 

In January 2008 in the US, AT&T announced a plan to filter its Internet links for copyright infringement. Legal commentators in America pointed out that the plan was immediately flawed, because if it went ahead, AT&T would compromise its ‘common carrier' status ( this is similar to the ‘mere conduit' status in Europe, as enshrined in the E-commerce directive).

The US operator Verizon is also involved in the lobbying of the European Parliament. Verizon owns the domain name for the netconfidence coalition, which is the lobby coalition of telcos put together by AT&T for the purposes of getting this change to the law in Europe.

 European legislators and MEPs need to be wary of allowing US lobbying to pull the wool over their eyes. 



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Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.


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