Business, Entertainment, Software Programs

AT&T Patent That Helps Track and Charge File Sharing Users

The guys over at TorrentFreak have found a recently published software patent originally filed by AT&T back in 2006, and published just last month. However, if you dig more deeply into the patent library, you can see that for some reason AT&T filed for three different patents under basically the exact same title using the exact same person’s name for the inventor, a Mr. Falguni Sarkar. This invention actually was filed under AT&T mobility which had only just recently been formed after the merger of Cingular and AT&T back in 2005. There are actually three separate iterations of the patent itself, the first was filed in 2006 and granted in 2012, while the others were filed in 2013 and published in 2014 and filed in 2012 and published in 2013.

The purpose of this patent was originally to prevent ‘bandwidth abuse’ as they call it, on mobile networks so that they could make sure that they could track and charge problematic users using a credit system. This was still when AT&T had unlimited plans for mobile users including iPhone users and they were worried that they would need to find ways to reduce these unlimited users’ usage. If they didn’t AT&T clearly feared that this would cut into their bottom line and judging by the fact that unlimited plans are virtually dead within AT&T, there’s very little concern for the company now that users are committing ‘bandwidth abuse’. They managed to avoid the problem entirely by simply getting away with terminating unlimited data plans, a much more difficult plan to implement in terms of customer satisfaction but much cheaper to implement in terms of monitoring and executing.

Abstract of the patent states, "A user of a communications network is prevented from consuming an excessive amount of channel bandwidth by restricting use of the channel in accordance with the type of data being downloaded to the user. The user is provided an initial number of credits. As the user consumes the credits, the data being downloaded is checked to determine if 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. Various restriction policies also can be applied, such as levying additional fees and/or terminating the user’s access to the channel. Also, incentives can be provided to entice the user curb the misuse."

The truth is that there is nothing new about this patent other than the fact that the Federal District Court struck down the net neutrality rules set by the FCC, which basically states that the FCC doesn’t have the right to implement those rules on ISPs. This effectively shook the entire internet, however, the court did reaffirm the FCC’s right to regulate ISPs, which could mean that we should see more regulation or reclassification of ISPs by the FCC relatively soon. Because, if things are allowed to be as they are now, AT&T’s patents that they have with the USPTO basically allow them to track down users who are ‘bandwidth abusers’ and tag them and then charge them for their ‘bandwidth abuse’.

Most people who use AT&T internet service are actually unaware that they already have some limitations set upon them without their knowledge. A good example is the fact that most AT&T Uverse users are not only getting lower speeds than their competitors (see TimeWarner, Cox, Charter or Comcast), but they are also being capped monthly for the amount of bandwidth they use. So, if you stream a lot of movies via Netflix in HD or you have a lot of family members that stream video a lot, you could easily hit your 250 GB per month cap. And AT&T currently just cuts off your internet service and quite literally caps you from using any more, to some users this comes as a complete shock as they are unaware of why their internet is so slow or not working at all.

Clearly AT&T is working to reduce their costs of maintaining and improving their networks and charging high-bandwidth users appears to be one of their strategies. Hopefully, it won’t come down to the same result that we got with the mobile contracts they’ve been forcing people into. But then again, thanks to T-Mobile you can still get unlimited-ish data and do it without a contract or a cap, which AT&T no longer does. Perhaps, then we could see a bit more competition in the ISP category but the problem is that most areas are local monopolies for certain ISPs and that is ultimately the biggest problem. I think the best solution would be local municipal ISPs that deliver fiber to the home and simultaneously give AT&T, TimeWaner Cable, Charter, Cox and Comcast a run for their money. Unmetered, uncapped 1 Gbit/s fiber is something that a lot of people dream of, and very few outside of Google Fiber and other smaller deployments get to live that dream.