AT&T's justifications for this are transparent crapola, like accusing Google of wanting to use its pipes for free (Google pays a fortune for bandwidth), and saying that only giant companies like AT&T itself care about this, since "the little guy [in the garage] is not streaming movies" -- despite the existence of companies and nonprofits like YouTube and the Participatory Culture Foundation.
I think it's pretty clear that this is nothing more than raw greed from AT&T, but I'm not sure what to do about it. The leading proposals are to get the FCC to regulate AT&T to ensure neutrality. I can see the logic in that: AT&T gets all kinds of legal breaks and access to public resources, so why shouldn't the public's government muscle it into giving the public the best deal possible?
That said, I'm not sure I agree. What we're talking about here is getting the FCC to write up rules dictating what firewall rules ISPs can and can't have. I'm an ISP right now -- my laptop is WiFi rebroadcasting the Ethernet Internet access I'm getting at my hotel. Anyone can be an ISP. Do we really want the Feds to tell us what we can and can't do with our network configurations? Do we believe that they can move fast enough and smart enough to do a meaningful job of it?
Maybe the answer is just more ISPs. More long-haul pipe (either physical or wireless), more rights-of-way cleared in cities, more of everything -- especially information about what a bunch of carrion-feeding, lying jackals AT&T are, and who else you can give your business to.
Gary Bachula, vice president for external affairs of Internet2, a nonprofit project by universities and corporations to build an extremely fast and large network, argues that managing online traffic just doesn't work very well. At the February Senate hearing, he testified that when Internet2 began setting up its large network, called Abilene, "our engineers started with the assumption that we should find technical ways of prioritizing certain kinds of bits, such as streaming video, or video conferencing, in order to assure that they arrive without delay. As it developed, though, all of our research and practical experience supported the conclusion that it was far more cost effective to simply provide more bandwidth. With enough bandwidth in the network, there is no congestion and video bits do not need preferential treatment."Link
Today, Bachula continued, "our Abilene network does not give preferential treatment to anyone's bits, but our users routinely experiment with streaming HDTV, hold thousands of high-quality two-way videoconferences simultaneously, and transfer huge files of scientific data around the globe without loss of packets."
Not only is adding intelligence to a network not very useful, Bachula pointed out, it's not very cheap. A system that splits data into various lanes of traffic requires expensive equipment, both within the network and at people's homes. Right now, broadband companies are spending a great deal on things like set-top boxes, phone routers and other equipment for their advanced services. "Simple is cheaper," Bachula said. "Complex is costly" -- a cost that may well be passed on to customers.