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AT&T's privacy tax should alarm privacy advocates

May 14, 2014
AT&T Eyes 100 U.S. Cities and Municipalities for Ultra-Fast Fibe

There has not been any tech service more over-hyped in the last year than AT&T’s GigaPower service. AT&T loves to issue press release after press release about how they are targeting 100 potential cities as locations for GigaPower. Those users could then get AT&T’s 1 gigabit service for $70-$100 per month. The Communications Workers of America called GigaPower “world changing.”

Except, there appears to be several slight issues with the GigaPower service that has gotten attention but not quite the amount that it deserves.

First, AT&T doesn’t actually deliver their 1 gigabit service to anyone. Nobody gets that right now. A very small portion in Austin, Texas can receive 300 Mbps to homes and will eventually get upgraded to a gigabit in the future. Even for those in the 100 cities cited by AT&T, there is little to no chance of GigaPower entering those cities in the near future. While AT&T keeps promising this massive expansion, they keep telling investors that they will not be spending additional money because of their main focus, the wireless industry.

Also, those with the current GigaPower service seem to be giving it bad reviews.

“Yesterday I was at my brother in-law’s house where he is a GigaPower subscriber, his computer was registering speeds of 70 Mbps down and 50 Mbps up using Ookla on a wired connection. That’s fast, but not 300 Mbps fast and certainly not a gig. My brother and sister-in-law are not speed freaks like myself, but they were disappointed with the GigaPower product.”

Second, if you want to get the actual 1 gigabit service, expect to pay more the advertised rate to keep your privacy and web surfing history. When people sign away their privacy to AT&T, they agree to participate in AT&T’s Internet Preferences behavioral tracking and ad service. Internet Preferences is defined by AT&T as their ability to use “your Web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the Web pages you visit, to provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.”

AT&T has two different pricing plans, one that cost $99 a month for typical service, and another that cost $70 a month provided users agreed to let AT&T monitor their packets to see where on the web the user has been. In turn, AT&T sells ads to customer based on his or her habits.

As DSLReports notes:

“That’s a thirty dollar markup from Google Fiber pricing simply for not wanting to have your online activity watched and monetized by AT&T. While Google tracks search history, cookies and GPS location data, AT&T’s Internet Preferences appears to use deep packet inspection (a la Phorm or NebuAD) to monitor each and every packet, including how long you spend on specific websites.”

So let me get this straight. AT&T is putting up  a brand new toll on basic consumer privacy that used to be (and should be) free? Have people forgotten AT&T’s complicity in handing over user information to government agencies?


GigaOM recently wrote a great article detailing the sign-up process for the GigaPower service:

“So I went through the sign up process myself online. Initially a customer looking for a triple play bundle sees the below as the default screen. For any of the bundle options, the default page offers only the “Premier” privacy-invading pricing, even if all you want is broadband. Incidentally, if you sign up for the Premier service you do so under a one-year contract and if you cancel before your year is up, AT&T charges you $348; or the $29 extra you would pay if you wanted privacy under the “Standard” plan.”

In fact, many people who are signing up to the GigaPower service are a bit surprised to see the large amounts of “fees” attached to the GigaPower plans. Among other things, AT&T seems to have a rich history of slapping customers with a range of different fees: activation fees, regional sports feesBroadcast Surcharges and of course early termination fees.