AT&T Offers $70 (Sort-Of) Gigabit Internet… If You Let It Snoop On Your Browsing History

GigaPowers activate!

GigaPowers activate!

AT&T has finally kicked off its gigabit Internet service in some parts of Austin, and is offering people high-speed fiber access “for as low as $70 a month.**” See those two stars? They’re kind of important, as the only way you’re getting that $70 price is if you sign up for a program that gives AT&T access to your web browsing habits so it can serve you up even more ads.

To be precise, customers signing up for that $70 offer have to enroll in AT&T Internet Preferences, a program that “may 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.” If you don’t opt into the Internet Preferences thingamajig, the cost is $99/month.

GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham reached out to AT&T for more specifics on exactly how the company plans to track customers’ browsing habits and received a typically vague response from the Death Star:

“We use various methods to collect web browsing information, and we are currently reviewing the methods we may use for the Internet Preferences program. Whichever method is used, we will not collect information from secure (https) or otherwise encrypted sites, such as online banking or when a credit card is used to buy something online on a secure site. And we won’t sell your personal information to anyone, for any reason.”

As Higginbotham points out, if AT&T is laying its own ads on top of the existing advertising placed on web pages, it may be in jeopardy of violating net neutrality rules.

“AT&T [would] be using its position as the owner of the pipe to step between the user and his or her content,” she explains.

One could argue that an ISP placing its own ads on top of a website’s existing advertising is also an issue of possible copyright infringement.

UPDATE: A rep for AT&T provided the following statement to Consumerist — “AT&T will not overlay any additional ads onto a website’s existing ad inventory. AT&T Internet Preferences could be used to make the existing ad inventory on a website more useful, because the ads you’d be shown would be better targeted to your interests.”

If true, then this would alleviate some of the above concerns regarding net neutrality and copyright, though we’re still unclear on how exactly AT&T would provide targeted ads without overlaying ads on users’ screens.


Oh, and in spite of throwing around the “giga” prefix, implying that the service is offering download speeds approaching of 1 gigabit per second, AT&T’s GigaPower service currently tops out at 300 Mbps. That’s impressive, but not quite “giga.”

AT&T claims that it will upgrade customers to actual 1Gb service when it becomes available in 2014. More information on the plans is available here for those who are curious.

Meanwhile, Google continues its plan to unleash Google Fiber on Austin, presumably at the $70 price it has charged for service in Kansas City and Provo, UT. Of course, Google already has the upper hand in providing targeted ads to users and on tracking their search and browsing behavior, so it does not need to offer a special tier for doing so.

Austin city officials are currently pondering whether to allow Google to share AT&T’s existing utility poles while it builds out its fiber network in the city.

Google is obviously delighted at the notion, as it would save the company time and money. AT&T isn’t thrilled and claims that Google is asking for unprecedented access to its utility poles.

“Google has the right to attach to our poles, under federal law, as long as it qualifies as a telecom or cable provider, as they themselves acknowledge,” a rep for AT&T told the Austin Statesman. “We will work with Google when they become qualified, as we do with all such qualified providers.”

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