Broadband Briefings

Published by NetAction Issue No. 26 January 28, 2003
Repost where appropriate. Copyright and subscription information at end of message.


Action Alert: Stop SBC
About Broadband Briefings

Action Alert: Stop SBC

Contents of this alert:

1. Stop SBC's licensing fee demand
2. Why SBC must be stopped
3. Talking points
4. Who to contact
5. More background

1) Stop SBC's licensing fee demand

Apparently not satisfied with monopolizing local phone service and DSL, SBC Communications, Inc. is now going after the Internet; specifically, web site navigation. NetAction is urging Internet users to speak out now against this latest monopoly grab by SBC.

According to a letter that SBC recently sent to, SBC owns two patents for a web site navigation feature called a structured document browser that relies on frames or tabs to give web sites a consistent look from one page to another. SBC has begun demanding licensing fees from web sites that use this type of navigation. Hundreds of thousands of web sites could be effected if SBC's patent claim is upheld, including many web sites operated by nonprofit organizations and grassroots activists.

2) Why SBC must be stopped

SBC's attempt to collect licensing fees from web sites that incorporate frames or tabs in their navigation is just the latest example of the company's efforts to re-monopolize telecommunications and technology. SBC has fought efforts to promote competition in both telephone and broadband Internet service ever since Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996. One of the keys to increasing competition was the Act's requirement that the remaining Bell monopolies, including SBC, open their networks to competitors. That requirement enabled competition to develop in the DSL market, which has led to wider deployment of affordable broadband Internet service.

But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering rules that would deregulate the Bells by eliminating the requirement that they share their networks with competitors. If the FCC changes the rules, competition will diminish and the Bells will operate as unregulated monopolies. SBC's demands for licensing fees might be the least of our worries if that comes to pass. SBC and the other Bells will be free to operate as they please. The cost of phone and broadband Internet service could skyrocket, and the quality of service could deteriorate, and there would be nothing consumers could do about it.

That's why it's important for Internet users to speak out now. Contact the FCC, your representatives in Congress and - most importantly - the media. Call their attention to SBC's licensing fee demand and remind them that there were good reasons for the rules Congress included in the 1996 Act.

3) Talking points

- SBC is now claiming it has patents on web site navigation features that are so common they are used by hundreds of thousands of web sites.

- Even more absurd than the patent claim is the company's attempt to enforce it by harassing web site operators into paying licensing fees.

- SBC's behavior makes it clear that if the FCC goes forward with its plan to deregulate the Bells, competition will diminish and companies like SBC will be free to demand monopoly rates for broadband and other telecommunications services.

4) Who to contact

- Federal Communications Commission

Informal comments can be submitted online. Select the "Broadband by telephone company" category and click "continue" to obtain the online comment form.

- Congress

Phone, write or fax your Representative and Senators at their district or Washington office.

If you don't know who your representatives are, you can look them up by typing in your zip code. (NetAction recommends *not* communicating with Congress by email because it is less effective than phone calls or letters.)

- Media

See NPAction's  media locator to obtain contact information for your local media. Send a brief letter to the editor by email.

5) More background

SBC's licensing demand letter to

"Patently outrageous? SBC claims patent on framelike browsing."

"Stupidest. Patent. Ever."

About Broadband Briefings

Broadband Briefings is a free electronic newsletter, published by NetAction to promote policies that encourage rapid and widespread deployment of high-speed Internet access. NetAction is a California-based non-profit organization dedicated to promoting use of the Internet for grassroots citizen action, and to educating the public, policycmakers, and the media about technology policy issues.

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