AT&T: Use of P2P software is grounds for service termination

AT&T says that the use of peer-to-peer software is grounds for disconnecting customers from its wireless internet service

“Use of a P2P file sharing application would constitute a material breach of contract for which the user’s service could be terminated,” Lobbyist Robert Quinn told an FCC officer at a hearing. From Multichannel:

Quinn said his company does not use “network management tools to block the use of P2P applications by its mobile wireless broadband customers.”

Instead, he said the company warns customers in writing that they would jeopardize their relationship with AT&T Wireless if they were caught using banned P2P applications.

“Under these terms of service, which are similar to those of other wireless providers, use of a P2P file sharing application would constitute a material breach of contract for which the user’s service could be terminated,” Quinn said.

The statement comes as the FCC is expected to sanction Comcast for the relatively minor transgression of slowing such traffic. It goes beyond mockery or willful disregard: it’s a flat declaration that the FCC is completely powerless to enforce principles related to network neutrality.

AT&T Will Disconnect Wireless P2P Users [IP Democracy]
AT&T Bans Wireless P2P [Multichannel]

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13 Responses to AT&T: Use of P2P software is grounds for service termination

  1. bardfinn says:

    Also in the contract: The requirement that you lease your Operating System from Ma Bell, and that you agree not to connect any unapproved protocols to the network.

  2. zuzu says:

    My guess is that you’re OK on all those items except the 200MB file to the office. If your employer is expecting you to take a Geo Metro to the track on race day and win, they’re doing it wrong. Hook up to some wi-fi somewhere if you need to play internet power-user.

    But culturally… in terms of social expectations, sending a 200MB file is hardly a “power user”. On my home fibre uplink I’ll easily move 5-10TB each month just with archive.org, Flickr, MP3 weblogs, blip.tv, Revver, Wikimedia commons, USENET, etc. 200MB is a drop in the bucket. (And think about all of those UMPCs / MIDs on the horizon.)

    The wireless network just won’t handle a large number of peeps trying to use it as they would their home or business land-line based connections.

    Although there appears to be an eager market for exactly that service. There are a significant number of laptops with a secondary mini-PCI-e slot for a WWAN card. Meanwhile WiMax seems to be fumbling the ball to fill that niche. What about Evolved HSPA (HSPA+) and its 42Mbps bandwdith??? IIRC, Telstra in Australia started rolling that out last month.

  3. shaggy35 says:

    …I wonder if they still make you pay a cancellation fee if they disconnect your service?

    It might be a way to get out of a 2 year contract…

  4. zuzu says:

    Daev / Samf: That begs the question… the only significant difference between a “server” and a “workstation” is that the latter has a monitor and keyboard while the former doesn’t.

    Furthermore, this does not compute:

    The wireless networks are not underprovisioned as a whole (tho some locales may be), there are just too many users demanding high-bandwidth services.

    If you can’t meet demand, then you’re underprovisioning.

    And therein lies the issue; the problem isn’t “P2P”, it’s a lack of bandwidth. Now, whether you can blame this on lack of allocated spectrum… well, I’ll agree that UWB / cognitive radio / open spectrum would be great.

  5. zuzu says:

    Can anyone give a technically honest definition of “peer-to-peer” application/protocol, seeing as how the end-to-end principle of the Internet Protocol means that all Internet traffic is peer-to-peer (P2P)?

    I’m making an educated guess that mobile telecoms (e.g. EDGE) are particularly underprovisioned for providing the bandwidth they promise. And since TCP/IP relies on overprovisioning for congestion control, any persistent transfer of Internet traffic over EDGE exacerbates the mobile telecom’s lack of sufficient infrastructure (i.e. towers). Hell, AT&T had to make major upgrades just to accommodate the data plans of the Apple iPhone rollout. While Sprint, IIRC, sold their towers with conditions for long-term lease, while also rolling out femtocells for their end-users.

    If you look at the fine print terms of Internet data service with mobile telecoms, they also claim to forbid any continuous streaming of data in various incarnations.

    This seems comparable to the modern business practice of leasing printers because they’re so prone to mechanical breakdown that the price of maintenance and support is best left to a specialized agency selling printing as a rental service rather than as a capital good. Of course, there are also chilling effects to renting rather than owning the “means of production”. (Thinking back to mobile phones, and how most people in the United States are not accustomed to buying a $600 phone up front and then changing SIM cards to make service providers competitive month-to-month. Instead they’re roped into expensive 2-year contracts amortizing the cost of a “free” phone.)

  6. daev says:

    That’s a valid point, really. Technically we ARE underprovisioned for demand. The point though is that the lack of capacity is not due to the telcos not installing infrastructure, but that the available wireless bandwidth is not available. After a dozen years working for ATT, I can honestly say that they will fill capacity in any way they can to make money. They’re pretty good at that. Looking at the tech every day I might even say they excel at it (it will get better.. SBC nee SWB has a radically different approach to the way legacy ATT conducted business from an engineering standpoint). The choke is the amount of spectrum that can be used. No amount of hardware can increase that. the only way that I see as a tech to increase the capacity is to open up more bandwidth, and that is limited by what the FCC will allow. It’s complicated, it’s political, it’s technical, and it’s practical in it’s limitations. Basically, it’s not going to change any time soon, and there’s really no target to lay blame on beyond circumstances. I agree we need more capacity, but it just isn’t there right now.

  7. Trnck says:

    So playing game using IP connection is considered as p2p?

  8. daev says:

    Technically, yes. Practically, no. You’ll be passing small amounts of data while gaming. That will be well below their radar. They’ll be more concerned with large files that eat up bandwidth.

  9. dequeued says:

    From what I understand, this provision is just because ATT feels their wireless network cannot sustain prolonged transfers.. Does this mean that I can’t:
    – Make a skype phone call?
    – Sftp a 200M file to my office?
    – Play second life?
    – Watch several videos on youtube???

    What good is their service then?

    Also, isn’t it false advertising to claim “internet access”, when they really mean “limited web and email access”

  10. SamF says:

    Well, technically all internet traffic is not peer-to-peer. Servers are not generally considered peers of workstations and vice-versa. Peer-to-peer is generally what happens when end-user computers connect directly to each other with little or no server intervention.

  11. daev says:

    Disclosure first (lest someone think I’m a tool): I work for ATT. I’m a technician, I don’t make policy, and I think everyone got screwed with the immunity deal. I just turn the red lights green and keep the bits flowing. My wife worked for a company that builds and installs cell towers. And excuse my ignorance of HTML tags, I’m a tech, not a website designer. Someday I’ll find time.

    That said, let me cover some mentioned points.

    Building new towers *might* alleviate the issue, but nobody wants a tower in their back yard. Telcos have to disguise the damn things as trees in some places just to get approval to plant them. We’re not going to see more towers as a solution sadly (ok, I don’t like the looks of them either, but I’m a granola nature freak anyway).

    Since additional towers in populated areas are out, what does that leave? Towers are the keystone of the wireless infrastructure, so the only thing you can do is make more efficient use of them. Cost/benefit pretty much has dictated that the existing hardware transports as much information as possible. We could, say, add more transport facilities to each tower, but that’s not really the choke point. The real issue is available over-the-air spectrum. It’s limited, and really not a very large swath of the electromagnetic spectrum. The encoding and frequency-hopping that goes on to maximize the use of this bandwidth is already very complex and we’re not likely to see much improvement in data compression. We could drop a huge mux at the base of the tower, but if we can’t feed it, it’s wasted space. The wireless networks are not underprovisioned as a whole (tho some locales may be), there are just too many users demanding high-bandwidth services.

    Anonymous (#1 post): Great analogy. It sucks less than most. And stinks more ;)

    Bardfinn: I’m unaware of any stipulation that one has to lease an OS from ATT. I’m running windows mobile 6, and looking to hack some linux action into the handset. No qualms about it. I don’t bother with the fine print, so I could be wrong. They can feel free to terminate me if they want, I’ll pay someone else. Loyalty is bought in today’s world.

    Shaggy: Nice loophole you got there. Would probably work if you want an iphone at a discount. The trick is getting them to actually cancel service. Right now I see the whole P2P issue as pre-emptive sabre rattling tho.

    Zuzu: I wish I could give a definitive example of P2P, but I think Samf covered most of that. You’re spot-on with the continuous streaming point. With non-tech limited bandwidth, P2P can be a legitimate crippler.

    Samf: I agree.

    Bottom line (and sorry this is such a long post) is that ATT had to make some kind of pre-emptive decision to make sure they could keep a viable wireless network operational. I don’t like it, but I can’t disagree with them. There is a “slippery slope” element here though, and I really have no answer to that.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Of course its grounds for termination. You agreed in your contract (at least I did in mine) to not operate a server on the 3G network. You should be happy they aren’t also seeking damages.

    The bandwidth per 3G cell is strictly limited and must be shared.

    People, it is like an elevator. There is enough air for all 12 passengers, no one is going to suffocate during the ride, but PLEASE! No farting in the elevator! Do that somewhere with more air.

  13. daev says:

    ” Does this mean that I can’t:
    - Make a skype phone call?
    - Sftp a 200M file to my office?
    - Play second life?
    - Watch several videos on youtube???

    What good is their service then?”

    My guess is that you’re OK on all those items except the 200MB file to the office. If your employer is expecting you to take a Geo Metro to the track on race day and win, they’re doing it wrong. Hook up to some wi-fi somewhere if you need to play internet power-user. The wireless network just won’t handle a large number of peeps trying to use it as they would their home or business land-line based connections. The situation won’t really improve until either new tech gets rolled out or spectrum is expanded by the FCC.

    As to what the service is good for, it works well for casual internet. Vote with your wallet if it doesn’t suit your intended use.

    Personally, I think it would be better to throttle rates than to ban any particular use, but like I said I don’t make policy. I’m just the guy they page when someone lets the smoke out. Whichever way they deal with the issue, it’s guaranteed to piss someone off. In this case, they chose to piss off the smallest number of high-bandwidth users.

    The wireless network is relatively new technology, and it’s still got limitations. Some of those limitations may never go away completely due to spectrum limitations, or technology may overcome. Right now, no amount of complaining will fix them.

    Just make sure you don’t let them block services when the wireless networks become as robust the land-line based networks.

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