back to article AT&T 'violates net neutrality' by NOT charging twice for same data

American telco giant AT&T doesn’t want to charge femtocell users twice for the same data, but exempting its customers from the second bill could fall foul of US Network Neutrality, says the Public Knowledge blog, which has demanded an FCC investigation into "data cap abuse". Femtocells are tiny base stations which route …


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  1. nigel 15

    There's no issue here.

    How much is a cell phone data cap? 500MB

    How much is a fixed line cap? 100GB

    in reality it makes no difference. the cost of the investigation will be more than the data.

    1. nevstah

      Re: There's no issue here.

      thats a bit like saying its ok to lose a few bank notes each month because you never go overdrawn!

      in reality, you are paying for every kilobyte of your data, whether thats cell or fixed line

      in fact why to femtocells allow data in the first place? why send data over 3G or 4G when you can use your broadband/wifi?

      1. nigel 15

        Re: There's no issue here.

        Do all phones have Wi-Fi?

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Use WiFi

          I recommend all those who suggest the use of WiFi to read up about fermocells and why mobile operators are keen on them for 4G/LTE handsets (hint they would like phones to not be WiFi capable also roaming between WiFi and 2/3/4G is slow particularly when in mid conversation...)

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: There's no issue here.

        You would use Wifi for data on the phone when in range, but getting voice calls over wifi is a bit more difficult, especially if you want incoming calls to hand-over seamlessly between wifi and 3G outside the house.

  2. Steve Todd

    Wrong way around of looking at it

    Why bill for the mobile data if you're running via your home broadband? You're being charged for it already by your ISP, which AT&T aren't going to refund if they AREN'T your ISP.

    If, however, they ARE your ISP and data caps have any meaning (other than they just want to screw more money out of you) then the data used by your mobile should count. THAT's why it's against net neutrality, not because they "have" to bill you twice.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Wrong way around of looking at it

      You bill for mobile data as it goes from the femto cell to a gateway and from there into the core network of the mobile network, generating billing records as per normal. Architecturally, to avoid this, you would have to break out of the mobile phone network before you get into the broadband connection, rather than create a tunnel through the broadband to connect the femto into the mobile network. That's why they think it should be billed twice, because two different networks are handling the packets. What AT&T seem to be doing on the final subscriber data usage bill is adding an IF( (subscriber == broadband_subscriber) && (source_IP == femto_IP) )THEN fuggedaboutit.

      1. Steve Todd

        Re: Wrong way around of looking at it

        The expensive part of the equation is the mobile radio network. By the time it gets to the AT&T Internet network the cost is buttons. It's also trivial to record how much data came via the picocell gateway and subtract that from your bill.

      2. Allan Thomas

        Re: Wrong way around of looking at it

        I have the same thing with my home internet. When I buy content from my ISP (i.e. music, videos, etc) they allocate that data to a separate section that doesn't count to the data cap.

        The way I see AT&T perceiving this as some what similar, you are paying for a cell tower and the data allowance to go with it. So AT&T are going to treat this as nothing more than a huge wifi network (for internet based data) for all AT&T mobiles connected to it.

        i.e. You’re a mining company and pay for a tower so employees can use phone and internet services on site and we are not going to double charge you for internet usage from mobile devices linked to this cell network (which you no doubt pay for anyway).

        As to the statement about abusing the spirit of net neutrality is BS. Net neutrality is about ISP’s not killing competition using their clout for their own online services. Nowhere in this article does it state for AT&T customers having their own cell towers with customers using AT&T mobiles using AT&T internet services get the data free. All it says is ANY internet usage from AT&T mobiles will not be charged to the mobile account. You could be using facebook, youtube or even looking up The Register and we will not charge you.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Do-gooder proggies in action

    I remember when "Net Neutrality" meant that one should force providers to not drop packets on the floor depending on destination, origin, service type and content and force them to charge everyone equally (clearly another one of those 99%er club "good ideas" even though the 99% didn't even know they were the 99%ers back then).

    Now it's about how the bill looks like? Really?? Let's apply some gas here, shall we?

    No Daily Mail icon, I see.

  4. KjetilS

    In my (admittedly simple) mind couldn't this be solved by not billing for 3G data when using a femtocell, while still billing for broadband data?

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge


      Because that's the same problem - billing for something once when it goes through two different networks. This would not resolve the complaint by the Public Knowledge blog.

      I agree it's an eminently sensible thing for AT&T to do, though.

      1. KjetilS

        Re: Nope

        Good point. I didn't think of that

      2. Chad H.

        Re: Nope

        Is it actually 2 sepereate networks though? One would imagine there is some direct interconnect between them that would warrant the lower/removed charge.

        This is one of those "own goals" Net Neutrality really doesn't need.

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge

          Re: Nope

          The chain will be Femto <-> Gateway <-> SGSN <-> GGSN <-> data network for 3G devices. For calls, the chain is Femto <-> Gateway <-> MSC <-> other phone networks. All the named boxes are part of the mobile phone network (even if the interconnects may be tunnelled via the data network in some cases).

  5. Mark #255


    The Femtocell operator should pay for its broadband access.

  6. Piro

    Why not just use Wifi?

    You're at home, right? What's the point of this femtocell bollocks? How about you just use wifi or the home phone..

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: Why not just use Wifi?

      Because Wifi doesn't receive phone calls, which is probably the primary purpose of having a phone connected to a mobile phone network.

      And the ONLY people with femtocells are - because of the stupid policy to not supply these devices without an awful lot of fuss and threat from the customer - people who can't get a mobile phone signal at home and buy them in order to get that.

      The whole data thing is a side-issue. But it would be quite nice for myself to get one of these (once they stop the messing about with not supplying them openly) so that I get better reception in my 1930's-build, solid-brick house which is a matter of a hundred yards from a huge cell-phone tower and I'm lucky to get 1 "bar" inside (and can lose a phone call by standing in the wrong place in my house).

      Ideally, I'd like them to just boost the signal from the tower but that's asking a bit much for one customer. The next best thing is a femtocell. And I have Wifi on my phone, so it hardly matters except as a side-issue for data - but what DOES matter is getting phone calls when people ring my widely-publicised phone-number (I don't even care about ringing out - I have a home phone that's NOT widely-publicised because I don't want it to be).

      And, yes, there are redirections you can do through third-party providers to make your phone calls get rerouted but, to be honest, that's a lot more hassle than just not doing anything, giving the revenue to the landline company instead, and waiting for the day when femtocells appear as something you can actually just order like any other normal, desired product.

      1. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: Why not just use Wifi?

        You are right about making calls on wifi isn't possible. The problem with your other solutions are as follows:

        a) the cell towers are probably already at max transmit power, so you'll probably break the law (if not the kit) by upping the power.

        b) installing new towers can cost a lot - upwards of $10k alone just for the kit, then there's site rental, cabling & connection, power, ... This is probably not cost effective to cover a small radio blackspot. A femto costs the subscriber only (unless subsidised, but these things are commodity devices at commodity prices).

        1. kain preacher

          T-mobile Does wi-fi calling

          Looks at his T-mobile phone. Looks were it say to enables wi-fi calling In fact it says if I use wi fi calling I don't use my minutes .

      2. Eddy Ito

        Re: Why not just use Wifi?

        "Because Wifi doesn't receive phone calls, which is probably the primary purpose of having a phone connected to a mobile phone network."

        Sure it does. You just need a handset that is capable and a service provider who has caught up with half decade old GAN/UMA technology. When at home my own mother uses her Sidekick to call over wifi, it was the feature that got her to switch to T-mob.

    2. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: Why not just use Wifi?

      Because I have a mobile cap but no landline freebie calls.

      The easy resolution is to point out that bandwidth isn't money. If I don't use it, I save nothing. I can't save it, or turn it into some other goods or services. Therefore, its use does not constitute "billing."

      Most isp's will shape if you bust your data cap at a rate high enough to carry voice, effectively excluding voice from the cap. There is also usually a freezone holding things like linux distro files and other stuff the isp hosts. In this case its a gateway.

      Publicity-seeking org, move along, nothing to see.

  7. frank ly

    But, but, but

    They are not 'discrminating' on the basis of the data (it's type, original source, etc), they are discriminating in favour of their own customers, to avoid annoying their own customers. This sounds reasonable and sensible.

    If the Postal Service had to use a private (different) courier over part of their distribution network, would they charge their customers extra for that delivery? - no. If the customer had delivery to a PO box and then tasked a private courier to forward it to their home, would they have to pay extra to the private courier?- yes.

    1. JimmyPage Silver badge

      Reasonable and sensible

      are not mentioned anywhere in the US constitution.

      Just life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

      1. Steve Knox

        Re: Reasonable and sensible

        are not mentioned anywhere in the US constitution.

        Just life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

        No, that set of rights is not mentioned in the US Constitution either.

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: But, but, but

      They are going to do the same thing for users of Verizon picocells using their broadband network? If not it breaks network neutrality.

      1. Chad H.

        Re: But, but, but

        No, it doesn't.

        If the calls are going through AT&T's phone network, which presumably is connected to the broadband network, it hasn't left the originating network. It can be charged as a phone call as it gets to the same place the call would go anyway withouth going off net.

        The Verizon customer's data has to actually leave the AT&T network, and thus costs money though interconnect charges.

        1. I think so I am?

          Re: But, but, but

          Realistically all data even that picked up by cell towers runs on back-hall fiber at some point - This would be why Voda payed big bucks for C&W?

  8. Synja

    Just a few thoughts/questions

    Would it violate net neutrality to force other station providers to be "compatable" with AT&T DSL?

    Does HostGator violate net neutrality by throttling FTP connections?

    Do ISP provided spam filters violate net neutrality?

    Does Verizon violate net neutrality by blocking SMTP traffic from non-business DSL lines?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Just a few thoughts/questions





      Good luck doing anything about any of these.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Intent or incompetence

    I have an O2 Femtocell - named by O2 in priapistic pique the 'Boostbox'.

    In their wisdom O2 count all service consumption (voice, sms or data) through the boost box as normal service consumption, as if the full radio access network (the expensive bit of a mobile network) has been used. They claim the aforementioned Boostbox is part of the mobile network. I did ask them where I can plug the ethernet and 240v AC it needs into the mobile network, especially as they have no cell site within 12km of my home. This just confused their simple Customer Care team.

    My real point is that working this way means O2 core network doesn't need to do any accounting for Femtocell traffic. And so the situation is just as likely to have been caused by incompetence, or wilful inaction rather than a considered approach to the customer needs.

    If it wasn't for the fact that I need to use the Femto I'd tell them where to stuff it.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: Intent or incompetence

      You are incorrect that the O2 core network doesn't need to do any accounting for femto traffic - in reality, to achieve this the core network would need modification. To the core network the femto network looks like regular RNCs and Node Bs. You would have to create a specific function somewhere to correlate originating calls against the originating Node B ID, check it's a residential femto (there are other types) and then discard billing records for those calls (although you'd still need to log them so that Theresa May can check who you're calling). It's not trivial.

      As to confusing their Customer Care team - you think they know about the network architecture? They sit in front of a web dialog that gives them a play-book of things they can do. Anything else they escalate to engineering support. The CC team are most likely tasked with helping folks switch it on and configure the list of numbers allowed to use the box, perhaps telling the user to move it away from the window if performance is poor.

      I agree that it does seem to be double-dipping to have to pay for calls on your own femto, though.

  10. Old Handle

    It seems to me the correct solution is not to charge for data on the femtocell at all. If you've already rented the thing for your personal use, there shouldn't be a separate charge for data. Of course they could still charge for long distance calls and such, which use other parts of their infrastructure. I don't see any conflict if they did it that way.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      It is not a router

      the femto is not a router into your DSL ISP, there is a tunnelled connection into the mobile network core that merely uses your DSL as a backhaul link to achieve this.

  11. Donald Becker

    Many people don't seem to understand the operation of the nanocells.

    A typical device is the one sold by Verizon. You purchase the box for $200 (although some people have gotten discounts) and install it on your internet connection. The box provides cell service for anyone in the area, supposedly prioritizing your phone calls (really reserving one call slot, out of eight or more).

    That means your internet connection isn't just carrying your own calls and data, it's potentially carrying your neighbors calls and data as well. It's actually more likely than most people estimate, since if your cell coverage was poor, so is every else's in the neighborhood.

    There is an easy solution, but it's one that is strong resisted by the cell companies: you should get credit for the calls carried on your cell site. You bought the nanocell, and paid for the data transport. They would compensate another carrier for calls carried. But that would cut into their profits, as they currently get the extra coverage at no cost. And perhaps even a modest profit for selling the nanocell for $200.

    1. Steve Knox


      If that's what Verizon sold you, take it back and get a proper femtocell.

      We have one where I work, with AT&T.

      We control what devices can connect to it through a web management interface. No traffic crosses that device, or our network, without our approval.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: No.

        You've just highlighted one of the differences between business grade and consumer grade fermocells.

        BT(UK) allows it's users to have 'free' BT WiFi hotspot access. However, one of the conditions is that you turn your domestic router into a hotspot available to all. Obviously as BT control the router/ADSL modem they can easily separate the two traffic streams and so bill accordingly.

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