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AT&T Wants to Track Your Downloads and Bandwidth Use

A new patent from AT&T could potentially penalize Internet users who stream and download music online. As the Huffington Post reports, Patent US 20140010082 A1, which was published in January and still in the application stage, outlines a plan in which AT&T would be able to charge customers more money based on how much time they spend online and what kinds of websites they visit. Yes, this spells trouble for users of bandwidth-hungry sites like Netflix, but it also could lighten the wallets of anyone with, say, a Spotify account.

If the patent moves forward, AT&T would be allowed to sell its customers different kinds of service plans, and award them with “an initial number of credits,” according to the patent. Once someone uses their credits to download content, the content is reviewed and deemed either “permissible or non-permissible.” If you’re consuming permissible content, then your credit amount is restored to the initial allotment. If it’s non-permissible (here’s where file-sharers should start paying attention), then you are provided with a credit amount that falls short of the original amount.

As Digital Trends points out, it stands to reason that if someone were to run out of said credits, then AT&T would punish that person somehow, possibly by slowing down Internet speed, blocking certain websites, or issuing a fine.

“When a user communicates over a channel, the type of communication is checked to determine if it is of a type that will use an excessive amount of bandwidth,” the patent reads. “For example, a subscriber using more bandwidth than allowed by the subscription service plan, or a user not subscribing to the appropriate service plan, would be considered excessive use of the bandwidth. If it is determined that the type is a non-permissible type (e.g., use excessive bandwidth), the user’s access to the channel is restricted.”

AT&T’s proposal comes in the midst of an ongoing debate over network neutrality, the principle that service providers should treat all kinds of websites equally, and not charge users different rates to access any specific site. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s rules protecting net neutrality. Many musicians have been public about their support of net neutrality over the years, including R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Kathleen Hanna, and the Wrens, all of whom have signed on for the Future of Music Coalition’s Rock the Net campaign calling for online openness, which was launched in 2007.

“In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took an important step toward keeping the internet accessible to all,” the Future of Music Coalition’s website reads. “Those rules have since been overturned in a court decision that could be devastating for musicians and fans.” Should AT&T’s patent get the go-ahead, it could be an early sign of what’s to come.