Public Knowledge says AT&T MicroCell policy violates net neutrality

AT&T exempts from data caps the traffic going over its own femtocell, but not those of other carriers, the group says

AT&T is violating the spirit of net neutrality with its policies on the use of small cellular base stations in homes, the consumer advocate group Public Knowledge says.

The carrier's policies favor its own small base stations over those of rival mobile operators, an action that goes to the heart of the net neutrality debate, Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

Many mobile operators, including AT&T, Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, offer small base stations called femtocells to customers who want or need better cellular signals in their homes. AT&T calls its device the MicroCell. Unlike traditional base stations, which connect to the Internet over wired or wireless links that the mobile operator arranges and pays for, femtocells use the mobile subscriber's own home broadband.

The problem with AT&T's treatment of femtocells relates to its monthly caps on broadband data use, according to Public Knowledge. For AT&T broadband subscribers who also have AT&T's mobile service and use one of its femtocells, data traveling over the femtocell doesn't count against their monthly cap, Weinberg wrote. For users with cells from other mobile operators, the traffic does count against the cap, he wrote. AT&T declined to comment on the allegations.

Such a policy could give AT&T broadband users who want or need a mobile coverage boost a strong incentive to sign up for AT&T's mobile service as well. Public Knowledge thinks the carrier is unfairly using its control over subscribers' Internet connections.

"When AT&T chooses some data to treat differently, especially under a cap, that's a huge problem," said Weinberg said in an interview on Tuesday.

Weinberg compared the situation to one that led Public Knowledge to file a complaint with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission last year. The group told the agency that cable operator Comcast exempted its Xfinity video service from data caps while keeping video content from other providers under those caps. Comcast has said it can treat Xfinity differently because it travels over Comcast's private Internet Protocol network rather than the Internet.

Public Knowledge hasn't filed a complaint against AT&T, but Weinberg said the FCC should take action soon on such policies. Every time ISPs institute such a policy and regulators don't act, it pushes the edge of how data caps are used, he said.

"What you end up with is a situation where people who have caps are steered toward online sites or services that are either owned by their ISP or have some sort of financial agreement with their ISP," Weinberg said. "New services will be frozen out of that."

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentmobilebroadbandregulationlegaltelecommunicationat&tCarriersPublic Knowledge

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?