AT&T rigs net neutrality study

All hail the tiered internet

A new study from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Nevada Reno says that net neutrality is a bad idea. Of course, that's what you'd expect it to say. It was paid for by AT&T.

For years, AT&T has called for a "tiered Internet," which would abandon net neutrality in favor of a system where high-bandwidth sites like YouTube are forced to pay higher fees to ISPs like, well, AT&T. Now, the telecoms giant has commissioned a study that supports its own argument. Conducted by researchers at AT&T Labs as well as Rensselaer and Nevada Reno, the study claims that an internet where all traffic is treated equally would require much more capacity than a tiered infrastructure.

"We wanted to take one piece of the overall debate and approach it quantitatively,” said principal investigator Shivkumar Kalyanaraman, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer. "The study makes it clear that there are substantial additional costs for the extra capacity required to operate networks in which all traffic is treated alike."

Using computer models, the study compares today's internet with a two-tiered setup that gives special treatment to high-bandwidth applications like video games and voice over IP (VoIP). According to the models, a net-neutral approach requires between 60 and 100 per cent more capacity to maintain the same level of performance.

Last December, to gain FCC approval for its merger with BellSouth, AT&T agreed to maintain “a neutral network and neutral routing in its wire-line broadband Internet access service" for at least two years. But the company continues to battle the introduction of net neutrality laws in Congress.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin has said he wants to ensure that consumers have access to all Internet content, but he isn't opposed to some sort of tiered model. "It's crucial to ensure that people are able to recoup some of the cost of their investments," he said last month, appearing via satellite at the annual NXTcomm conference in Chicago. “[Providers] should have the flexibility to offer various tiers of service."

This might involve ISPs charging consumers higher fees for faster service or specialized content. Everyone would still have access to all content - but they'd have to pay extra for it.®

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