AT&T, with its efforts to restrict Skype on the iPhone to Wi-Fi hotspots, and what appear to be attempts to block some video services as well, is looking like the Comcast of the wireless net neutrality debate. In one of my favorite pieces of corporate BS, an AT&T spokesman called today to tell me that while the carrier doesn’t prohibit folks downloading VoIP applications on their devices, it’s just not cool when a AT&T partner wants to support it.
Mark Siegel, a spokesman for the carrier, refused to answer any of my broader questions about the role of net neutrality on wireless networks, or how this ties to AT&T changing its terms of service for video; he merely repeated his single talking point — twice. Since he clearly wants y’all to understand AT&T’s position through this particular statement (and only this particular statement), here it is: “We don’t prohibit Skype calls on our network, but we think it’s only reasonable that our vendors won’t facilitate competitive services that run on our network.”
As for me, I’m still hoping we can get some honest and real debate over how neutral we can expect our wireless networks to be, given the capacity limitations of radio spectrum. Unlike wired web providers, which have the option to upgrade to faster pipes, the government has leased finite amounts of spectrum for carriers to use. How much does a carrier’s right to ensure a quality experience on a limited resource trump the rights of consumers to use whatever services they want? And how far can carriers push their defense of a quality experience to block competing IP-based applications?