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WASHINGTON -- AT&T filed a letter last week with the Federal Communications Commission claiming its plans for "paid prioritization" arrangements were supported by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the international body that develops and promotes Internet standards. In its letter, which attempted to conflate AT&T’s anti-consumer plans with accepted business-class network management practices, the company stated that paid prioritization "was fully contemplated by the IETF."

The IETF, however, disputes AT&T’s claims. "This characterization of the IETF standard and the use of the term 'paid prioritization' by AT&T is misleading," IETF Chairman Russ Housley told the National Journal. “IETF prioritization technology is geared toward letting network users indicate how they want network providers to handle their traffic, and there is no implication in the IETF about payment based on any prioritization."

"It's obvious that what AT&T calls 'paid prioritization' is just another way of trying to get around the principle of the free, open and non-discriminatory Internet," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge. "The Internet Engineering Task Force was right to call out AT&T for this mischaracterization, and the FCC should reject the idea entirely."

Today, several leading public interest groups called on AT&T to publicly retract its recent letter to the FCC, and asked the company to stop misleading the agency on this crucial issue at a critical moment in the development of open Internet policy.

"AT&T should immediately retract its inaccurate and misleading letter and apologize to the FCC for unnecessarily muddying the very important debate over the future of the Internet," said S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press. "Unfortunately, the fact that AT&T has instead chosen to buy ads promoting its attempts to mislead policymakers indicates that the company’s priorities do not include participating in reality-based policy debates."

The groups urged AT&T to publicly reject the practice of paid prioritization and affirm its support for FCC rules on Net Neutrality like those AT&T operated under for two years following its merger with Bell South. Under those conditions, AT&T agreed that it would not "provide or sell to Internet content, application, or service providers ... any service that privileges, degrades or prioritizes any packet ... based on its source, ownership or destination."

"The dispute with AT&T over the IETF DiffServ architecture underscores how important it is for the FCC to adopt and enforce a clear policy to prevent discrimination on the Internet," said Mark Cooper, director of research at Consumer Federation of America. "AT&T’s misinterpretation of the IETF DiffServ architecture and its subsequent campaign of disinformation, like last month’s Google-Verizon deal, show that the network operators put their private interests above the public interest and are willing to bend and break technical network management principles at the expense of the open Internet."

Last week, the Open Technology Initiative at the New America Foundation challenged AT&T, filing a letter of its own distinguishing between harmful paid prioritization and legitimate business practices.

"Our response letter to the FCC focused on AT&T's disingenuous interpretation of IETF's work; however, we have other serious concerns with AT&T's recent letter to the FCC," said Sascha Meinrath, director of OTI. "We are still waiting for the FCC to investigate whether AT&T engaged in any activity that violated the conditions of its merger with Bell South."

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director of Media Access Project, added: "AT&T should take this episode as an opportunity to elevate the debate by making it clear that it has not previously engaged in paid prioritization and by explaining why it thinks it needs to change its practices going forward."

The groups emphasized the need for honest public debate and for policymakers to recognize attempts to camouflage anti-consumer proposals.

"The public is tired of companies like AT&T misleading them in order to block public interest policies," said Beth McConnell, executive director of the Media & Democracy Coalition. 'It’s time for policymakers in Washington D.C. to reject AT&T’s deceptive tactics, and instead to adopt common sense rules to protect consumers online."


Free Press is a national, nonpartisan organization working to reform the media. Free Press does not support or oppose any candidate for public office. Through education, organizing and advocacy, we promote diverse and independent media ownership, strong public media, and universal access to communications. Learn more at

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