AT&T had some explaining to do this week after the carrier – which has vigorously fought the FCC’s current net neutrality rules – decided to jump on board with a pro-net neutrality rally planned for Wednesday.
In a Tuesday blog post, AT&T SVP of External and Legislative Affairs Bob Quinn said that despite “differing viewpoints” about what framework should be used to maintain net neutrality, the carrier wanted to reaffirm its support for “an open internet based on protections that are fair and equal for everyone.” Thus, AT&T made the decision to support a “Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality” event organized by activists this week, he said. Other internet giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix previously signaled their intent to join the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Media Justice, MoveOn.org, and others in the rally.
“We all agree that an open internet is critical for ensuring freedom of expression and a free flow of ideas and commerce in the United States and around the world. We agree that no company should be allowed to block content or throttle the download speeds of content in a discriminatory manner,” Quinn wrote. “So, we are joining this effort because it’s consistent with AT&T’s proud history of championing our customers’ right to an open internet and access to the internet content, applications, and devices of their choosing.”
About that history, though.
Back in 2015, AT&T implied the FCC’s net neutrality rules were stifling innovation. Quinn said at the Phoenix Center’s Annual US Telecoms Symposium in December of that year the carrier avoided bringing new services to market because of concerns they might violate net neutrality regulations.
But AT&T did more than talk. The carrier was among a number of petitioners that filed a lawsuit claiming the FCC lacked the authority to implement its net neutrality rules under Title II reclassification. When the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia handed the FCC a win in that case in June 2016, AT&T vowed to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.
In recent months, AT&T – which seeks a return to the net neutrality regulation framework used by the Federal Trade Commission – has cheered FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s move to repeal Title II, which is part of the reason its support for the net neutrality Day of Action comes as a surprise.
But AT&T is not the only strange bedfellow for activists.
Cable operator Comcast also expressed its support for the rally. Like AT&T, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen said the operator wanted to reinforce its support for “permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules.” But Cohen was a bit more blunt about the changes Comcast is looking for.
“You can have strong and enforceable open internet protections without relying on rigid, innovation-killing utility regulation that was developed in the 1930s (Title II),” Cohen wrote. “We’ll be filing comments at the FCC next week with a lot of detail on how net neutrality rules can continue to survive without the FCC using ill-suited and outdated regulations, but ultimately, we believe the best way to end the game of regulatory ping pong that has been played in the net neutrality space for the past decade, would be for Congress to act and give clear legal authority and legislative direction. In the end, bipartisan legislation is the best course to pursue – putting in place strong, permanent, and legally enforceable net neutrality rules that fully protect consumers, while fostering growth, investment, innovation, and deployment of broadband to all Americans.”
For it’s part, AT&T rival Verizon said it applauded the passion of net neutrality advocates, but indicated “slogans and rhetoric” have yet to yield a “permanent and predictable” framework for an open internet.
“We respectfully suggest that real action will involve people coming together to urge Congress to pass net neutrality legislation once and for all,” Will Johnson, Verizon SVP of Federal Regulatory and Legal Affairs wrote. “The internet is too important to have policies that change with each election …We encourage all the participants in today’s Day of Action to join us in urging Congress to bring this decade-long issue to a close. Open internet protections deserve to be written in ink, not pencil.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations