AT&T to Offer Gigabit Discount, With a Catch

By Steve Anderson December 12, 2013

With Google Fiber rolling out gigabit connections in several locations throughout the United States, the impetus to improve connectivity in other Internet service providers (ISPs) seemed to pick right up to match. New plans with higher speeds—and higher bandwidth caps—started appearing in many different places, and some even started to offer gigabit service, likely in a bid to head off demand for Google service at the pass, so to speak. AT&T started to offer up gigabit service itself in Austin, Texas, but with a catch that some will likely find noteworthy: there's a discount available, but only if users are willing to let AT&T snoop on search patterns.

The GigaPower fiber-to-the-home service will set users back $70 a month in four Austin neighborhoods, which isn't half bad, really. Those wanting the lower rate, however, must agree to allow AT&T Internet Preferences to operate, which allows AT&T access to Web browsing information, including search terms entered and Web pages visited. Why does AT&T want such information? It actually comes right out and says so, saying that allowing such access will “provide you relevant offers and ads tailored to your interests.”

Essentially, there are two versions of the service available: there's the Standard version, which starts at $99 a month and offers speeds up to 300 Mbps, with upgrades at no charge when said upgrades are available in that particular area.  Television service can be added on at $50 more a month. The Premium version, meanwhile, asks $70 a month, which comes with waivers on several fees including activation, equipment and installation fees, along with enrollment in the AT&T Internet Preferences program, where searches are tracked. Those who also join up with U-Verse TV will get free HBO and HBO Go for 36 months, and additional HD service can be had for $120 a month. The gigabit service will come with a full terabyte for a data cap, and those managing to go over a terabyte will be subject to overage fees in the amount of $10 for every extra 50 gigabytes, up to an extra $30 a month.

Some will immediately draw comparisons between this and Amazon's Kindle, in which Amazon offered up a discount on the device itself in exchange for the right to show ads on said device. It also seems to match up a bit with Google's offering, though Google also offers up a free five Mbps service (after paying an upfront fee), and confirms that it doesn't snoop on content at the packet level.

This is an approach that's likely to get some interest—some people really don't care who's watching what online—especially since it is, or at least will be someday, gigabit service for somewhat cheaper. For some, however, privacy is worth $20 a month, though surely some cynical sorts out there will wonder if AT&T will actually honor its plan to not snoop if the extra $20 a month is paid. After all, if the technology is there to snoop at the cheaper rate, why not snoop quietly at the more expensive rate as well? But there's no sign that that's the case, so that may just be a case of cynicism running amok.

Still, it's an interesting plan AT&T's got there, and trying to compete with Google service is going to leave ISPs all over scrambling to make upgrades and still try to make profit when competing with one of the biggest names online around.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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