Broadband giants say Net neutrality fears are misguided

Verizon, AT&T offer companies special pipes. They want to extend that concept to content delivery. Photo: Ciccone, Tauke talk

LAS VEGAS--Executives from the two largest phone companies in the U.S. have tried to set the record straight on Net neutrality by explaining the kinds of service their companies would like to offer content providers.

Tom Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs for Verizon Communications, and Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president for AT&T, said at the TelecomNext trade show here on Wednesday that their companies have no intention of degrading or blocking other companies' traffic that rides over the public Internet.

Instead AT&T and Verizon would simply like to offer content companies, such as Google and Movielink, virtual pipes directly to consumers over their broadband connections that would allow these content companies to make sure users at home have a good experience accessing their content.

Net neutrality, which centers on whether carriers should be able to charge different fees to content providers who access their network, has been a hotly debated topic in the industry for several weeks as several lawmakers draft legislation that addresses the issue.

"There's been a misconception about the network we are building and how we plan to deliver services," said Cicconi. "What we plan to do amounts to creating dedicated services."

AT&T and Verizon already offer dedicated pipes to consumers for Internet Protocol-based TV services. Because they are providing the video service themselves to their own customer base, they control movie packets from the time they enter the network until they reach the subscriber at home.

Cicconi said it is unreasonable for companies offering competing video services that travel over the public Internet to demand AT&T offer the same quality it provides through its dedicated service.

"This debate is all about movies," he said. "A handful of companies who have plans to stream movies want to ensure their product is as good as ours. Or they want ours to be dumbed down for them."

Cicconi said that trying to achieve the same level of quality for video over the public Internet would be too expensive, because it requires extra equipment and network resources.

"If someone wants an equivalent level of service as what we provide, you have to provide them a dedicated service," he said. "And we can't do that for free."

Some Net neutrality proponents say they understand the phone companies' argument but they're concerned the phone companies will abuse their power since they're offering competing services.

"I don't oppose tiered services and VPNs (virtual private networks) to consumers," said John Sumpter, vice president of regulatory affairs for PacWest. "I just don't want them discriminating against anyone else in favor of their own service."

To fully appreciate what kinds of new services AT&T and Verizon hope to offer some day, people must first understand how the Internet works. The Internet is made up of a collection of networks, each owned by different network providers.

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