AT&T has spent a lot of money in the last few years lobbying against government regulation. They pushed hard to dismantle the Clinton-era DSL unbundling rules. They've lobbied against
having to negotiate thousands of franchise agreements with municipalities around the country before they could offer TV service. And, of course, they've lobbied hard against network neutrality regulations. In all cases, their argument was the same: market forces can protect consumers better than FCC meddling. And I've often been sympathetic
to those arguments in cases where they've faced real competition. However, James Gattuso points out that for all their bluster about free markets, AT&T only favors deregulation for themselves.
In a recent letter to the FCC, AT&T threw its weight behind FCC chairman Kevin Martin's proposal to impose new regulations on the cable industry
under an obscure provision of the 1984 Cable Communications Policy Act.
It's awfully hard to take AT&T's position here seriously. If, as they've been arguing for the last three years, the cable market is competitive enough that the franchise system should be liberalized, then it's certainly
competitive enough not to need new regulations. Conversely, if new regulations of the cable industry are needed, why should AT&T be excused from complying with the rules the same rules as the cable industry? As James points out, these kinds of flip-flops completely undermine AT&T's credibility, and are likely to hurt them in the long run. If they leap at every opportunity to impose new regulations on their competitors, who's going to take them seriously when they advocate deregulation for themselves?