Did an early Internet standards body envision paid priority?

As the battle over net neutrality rages on, AT&T (NYSE:T) set off another firestorm by claiming that the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in the late 1990s envisioned all along ISP priority access deals.

AT&T claims the IETF's addition of the"DiffServ" field to Internet Protocol was done "to facilitate paid prioritization as a means for encouraging the further growth and development of the Internet." AT&T told the FCC that paid priority access "was fully contemplated" and even "expressly contemplated" by the IETF all those years ago and is "fully consistent" with that body's standards-making discussions.

However, current IETF Chairman Russ Housley told the National Journal that "AT&T's characterization is misleading. IETF prioritization technology is geared toward letting network users indicate how they want network providers to handle their traffic, and there is no implication in the IETF about payment based on any prioritization."

But it's unclear from IETF documents that paid prioritization was indeed envisioned. In 1998 a group of Cisco engineers issued two IETF Request for Comments documents, known as RFC 2474 and RFC 2475. Both suggested adding a new feature to the IP protocol to enable differentiated services, otherwise known as DiffServ.

"The primary goal of differentiated services is to allow different levels of service to be provided for traffic streams on a common network infrastructure," RFC 2474 said. "A variety of techniques may be used to achieve this, but the end result will be that some packets receive different (e.g., better) service than others."

How to use DiffServ was outside of the scope of the documents, the writers said, but they did acknowledge that DiffServ could be used for a number of purposes.

But AT&T appears to have honed in on this comment from the RFC 2475 document: "Service differentiation is desired to accommodate heterogeneous application requirements and user expectations, and to permit differentiated pricing of Internet service."

The question is, what was the writers' intent of that statement? Was it just an observation or their vision for the future?

For more:
- see this ARS Technica article

Related articles:
FCC still considering reclassification for net neutrality
Verizon strikes back at critics of net neutrality plan
AT&T backs wireless exemption to net neutrality
Google defends net neutrality plan, claims it's not about Android
De la Vega: Google, Verizon net neutrality agreement is a positive sign
Verizon, Google offer net neutrality pact that exempts wireless

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