AT&T Claims Open Internet Rules Hinder Telemedicine, Connected Cars

AT&T, a longtime opponent of net neutrality regulations, this week offered a new argument against them.

The company's latest contention? The former rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, will inhibit new technologies like telemedicine or connected cars.

The Obama-era rules prohibited broadband carriers from blocking or throttling online material and from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The rules also prohibited providers from unreasonably hindering consumers and companies from reaching each other. The FCC voted last December to scrap those rules, but Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to restore them.

AT&T senior executive vice president Bob Quinn contends in a new blog post that the ban on paid prioritization may have applied even when companies wanted to offer services like remote surgery or autonomous cars. He suggests that without paid prioritization, the same dropped connections that people experience when streaming Netflix would also occur during web-assisted surgery.

"I think we can all agree that the packets directing autonomous cars, robotic surgeries or public safety communications must not drop. Ever," Quinn writes.

But despite the alarmist rhetoric, the former rules contained plenty of exceptions. In fact, the 400-page 2015 order explicitly said that telemedicine services could be structured to fall outside the scope of the regulations.

Democrats in Congress are now trying to restore the former regulations via the Congressional Review Act -- a 1996 law that allows federal lawmakers to vacate recent agency decisions. But the effort hasn't yet garnered enough votes to pass, let alone overcome a presidential veto.

Even if the federal initiative fails, states are moving forward with their own efforts to restore net neutrality rules. This week, Washington state lawmakers passed a bill restoring the net neutrality rules. Similar measures have been introduced in around half of the states.

1 comment about "AT&T Claims Open Internet Rules Hinder Telemedicine, Connected Cars".
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  1. Dan Greenberg from Impossible Software, GmbH, March 2, 2018 at 11:22 a.m.

    I am glad this article is marked "commentary" as it has a clear bias, characterizing the original blog as "alarmist rhetoric" and then attempting to discount his claims... and applauding States that have gone against the FCC. That's all OK as commentary, but commits multiple errors of omission.

    Just in the instance you gave, let me clip two things:
    "prohibited providers from unreasonably hindering consumers and companies"
    "telemedicine services could be structured to fall outside the scope"
    Think about these for a minute. You should assume telemedicine services would share the infrastructure with other services. The days of nail-ups of physical assets are long passed (and too expensive). Now, suppose to ensure reliability for telemedicine, the network must throttle/drop video packets on some consumer service. Would the ISP be shielded from a suit that says that was an "unreasonable" measure?

    Look, I am not saying the ISPs would act in a pure way - they have every incentive to charge for "fast lanes". What I am saying is that "net neutrality" as promulgated in your commentary lacks the nuance necessary to deal with the reality. Therefore, it will be subject to the Law of Unintended Consequences... one of which might be a delay in telemedicine services.

    You could be a whole lot more circumspect in your commentary. As a counterpoint for instance, you might consider the propaganda machine that is the Internet Association... and who is sponsoring it... and why they would do that. You might cast the net neutrality debate as a battle between large companies for the spoils, rather than simply believing the idea that an ISP is inherently trying to harm the little guy... and that a company which used to say, "Do no evil!" is not so motivated.

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