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The MisEducation of AT&T 

The Internet is AWESOME.  But it isn’t everything.  IP technology is AWESOME.  But it isn’t used only on the public Internet.  This distinction is key.

Members of The Broadband Coalition met with the FCC last week to lay out a framework for what needs to be done in order to make sure our nation’s communications networks continue to transition to the most efficient technology available.  More often that not, the most efficient technology utilizes some form of packet-mode technology.   “IP,” which stands for Internet Protocol, is a kind of packet-mode technology.

AT&T and Verizon want to label everything as the “Internet” in order to advance their agenda of eliminating their competition.  They claim that Congress didn’t anticipate the Internet or even that technology would continue to evolve as it always has.  It follows, they assert, that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 does not apply to evolving technologies, including IP.   In other words, following to their arguments, Congress passed a law that was outdated almost the moment it was passed.  This flies in the face of logic and fact.  This nation has witnessed awesome advances in technology, innovation that was unleashed, as anticipated, with the passing of the Telecom Act and other market-opening policies.  It is true that the FCC has some outdated and misguided policies -- those that are not technology neutral need to be addressed, and competition policy does need to evolve.  We can all agree on that.  But this isn’t about the public Internet.

So, if it’s not the Internet, what is it?  Communications providers are quickly replacing older transmission protocols with “packet-mode” technology.    Packet-mode technology refers to the way information is passed along a communications network.  Again, IP is a common packet-mode “protocol” used to pass different types of communications (our email, our telephone calls, medical images between health care professionals, music downloads) from one place to another.   And while IP technology is used to pass information along the public Internet, this technology is not limited to the Internet.  This and other evolving packet-mode technologies are used to complete voice calls and transmit data on networks that never touch the public Internet. 

Although AT&T and Verizon devote a great deal of resources to confusing this issue in their political advocacy, when it comes down to actually describing their services, they are clear – some services never touch the public Internet. [1]  Many of our critical communications never touch the public Internet.  And for good reason.  Despite the enormous value provided by the Internet, it is a not a secure network.  In order to access secure cloud-based services, to ensure medical images are securely sent between health care professionals, to back up and secure financial transactions, and to exchange voice traffic, service providers deliver communications products over managed networks – not the public Internet.    

The Broadband Coalition is dedicated to ensuring businesses across the nation continue to have competitive options for their communication needs.  As the new entrants to the local business markets, we have driven innovation by deploying networks and products using today’s advanced packet-mode technologies.  We strongly support updating the nation’s communication policies to ensure a transition to packet-mode technology, including IP, for communications networks other than the public Internet.  But, these decisions need to be based on fact, not on misleading advocacy tactics designed to confuse the conversation. 

- TBC Editor

[1] “AT&T U-verse Voice service is provided over AT&T's world-class managed network and not the public Internet. Using one network to provide U-verse services enables AT&T to provide high quality service. Voice over IP ("VoIP") providers who utilize the public Internet are less able to control the traffic and ensure voice quality…. With AT&T U-verse Voice, although you can use your high speed Internet service to manage your AT&T U-verse Voice features, the voice packets do not traverse the public Internet.”

http://www.att.com/u-verse/explore/home-alarm.jsp (emphasis added).

“To understand the features and quality of FiOS Digital Voice, you first need to know that the service is not the same as the services you get with a little Internet adapter for your modem and phone, and it does not ever touch the public Internet.”

http://newscenter.verizon.com/press-releases/verizon/2010/fios-digital-voice-heres.html (emphasis added)

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