AT&T makes case for user-driven ‘fast lanes’

If people want to prioritize one website over another on their own Internet service, they should be able to, according to AT&T.

Company officials last week met with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lawyers to argue that the agency should not ban Internet “fast lanes” that individual users want placed on their service.

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For instance, a business might want to give workers faster access to certain websites over others when traffic gets clogged, to incentivize employees to stay on task rather than surf the web, AT&T argued.

“To preemptively and categorically block consumers from making these types of choices over their own Internet access connection before anyone even knows what the service might look like would needlessly stifle innovation and deny consumers the ability to tailor their own Internet service to their own needs,” AT&T said in an FCC filing summarizing its meeting.

The creation of online “fast lanes” — in which one service or website loads faster than others — is officially known as “paid prioritization.”

The net neutrality proposal floated by the FCC earlier this year would seem to allow websites to cut deals directly with Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable to create "fast lanes" for those sites. The proposal inspired broad criticism from people worried it would lead to a “two-tiered” Internet.

AT&T wants to make sure that the FCC keeps that discussion separate from the possibility of letting Web users pick and choose whether to create fast lanes of their own.  

That “user-directed” system could allow for “sponsored data” arrangements, for instance, in which a company offers specialized or cheaper service and lets the customer decide if they want to participate, similar to a 1-800 number.

Those deals “could allow additional ways for edge providers to differentiate themselves and attract customers, while customers would benefit by saving money,” AT&T claimed.