It was only a couple of weeks ago that US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit effectively struck down the legal basis of net neutrality, the founding idea of the internet that all data traffic should be treated equally.
Whether the ruling will stand remains to be seen, but in the meantime, US telecoms giant AT&T has published its patent for a credits system aimed at stopping customers from ‘abusing a telecommunications system’ by using bandwidth to download illicit material.
With the snappy name of ‘Prevention Of Bandwidth Abuse Of A Communications System’, the patent encapsulates everything that net neutrality activists feared would happen: spying on bandwidth consumption and penalising excessive use of the ‘wrong’ kind,
‘When a user communicates over a channel, the type of communication is checked to determine if it is of a type that will use an excessive amount of bandwidth’.
It works by assigning customers ‘credits’, which are used up when they ‘use an excessive amount of bandwidth’ (i.e. for filesharing),
‘The user is provided an initial number of credits. As the user consumes the credits, the data being downloaded is checked to determine if it is permissible or non-permissible. Non-permissible data includes file-sharing files and movie downloads if user subscription does not permit such activity. If the data is permissible, the user is provided another allotment of credits equal to the initial allotment. If the data is non-permissible, the user is provided an allotment of credits less than the initial allotment.’
The customer can then continue using his or her internet connection for ‘permissible’ uses (in which case they will receive more credits), or,
‘If the user continues to communicate over the channel with a non-permissible communication type, various restriction policies can be applied. For example, the billing department of the user’s network can be informed, thus resulting in additional charges to the user, and/or the user’s access to the channel can be terminated.’