Monday, October 16, 2006

AT&T, Antitrust & Net Neutrality

David Burnstein over at the curiously antediluvian DSL Prime (it is presented as a mass of undifferentiated and unindexed plain text) has long been one of the most incisive and widely cited commenters on the the real-world implications of advanced communications technology. He points out that AT&T's current business plan is fundamentally based on an antitrust violation and that it is a textbook case of the violation of the principle of network neutrality. AT&T will be using its monopoly or near monopoly status to prevent you from accessing the video content of your choice while exclusively favoring its own video product.

Bernstein's most recent newsletter contains a piece with the following title: "The Imminent, Unnecessary Antitrust Violation by AT&T" and here is the meat of what he says:
Offering HD video while denying an “essential facility”
AT&T is about to provide what should be a clear test of “access to content of your choice.” They are going to start offering HD TV of Ed Whitacre’s choice on Project Lightspeed, but effectively prevent anyone who wants to watch any other live HD programming. Their own HD takes about 9 megabits according to the last official comment and they are blocking the customer from anything more than 6 megabits for TV from the net. Since there are typically only two possible paths from the Internet to consumers for HD video, and sometimes only one, this meets the traditional antitrust definition of an “essential facility” and a “bottleneck...”

AT&T is inviting this suit by refusing to let people buy the 20 megabits every Lightspeed line is designed to support. ... The only logical reason for AT&T to maintain the 6 megabit limit is to protect their video program, and it just isn’t worth it.
There it is, plainly and simply: when Project Lightspeed is implemented by AT&T it will be not only an antitrust violation under reasonable interpretations of the standard rules but also an obvious violation of network neutrality. AT&T will NOT sell you the bandwidth that would allow you to replace its product with one which you prefer. This effectively shuts out all competitors.

So when the BellSouth sale to AT&T goes through Lafayette and Louisiana will be in a position to experience the most advanced forms of monopoly behavior and the most egregious examples the violation of Network Neutrality.

We can certainly be forgiven for thinking that it would be a very good thing if we had our own, actually competitive network in place before AT&T's Project Lightspeed makes it to our small city.

No comments: