AT&T Is Fine With Title II — When It Protects AT&T From Anti-Competitive Behavior

from the cake-and-eat-it-too dept

For months now, AT&T has been telling anybody who’ll listen that Title II-based net neutrality rules are “from a bygone era,” will “diminish industry investment and competition,” and are a draconian, devastating example of regulatory overreach. In protest over the FCC’s new neutrality rules, the company even went so far as to “suspend” its largely phony 100-city fiber-to-the-home investments to “prove” Title II was an investment killer (though it ultimately had to walk back the bluff after the FCC decided to fact check the company’s math).

While publicly AT&T tries to argue that Title II is a menace of the highest order, privately, AT&T consistently defers to authority of Title II — when it’s in AT&T’s best interests to do so. The company recently floated above, around and over Title II and common carrier definitions to skirt an FTC investigation into its throttling practices. You’ll note that when AT&T benefits from some of the protections Title II can offer, suddenly, magically gone is all of the rhetoric about Title II being bad simply because it’s based on the framework of an older law.

The latest example of this involves a billing dispute between AT&T and several smaller telcos. Basically — AT&T recently complained that Great Lakes Comnet and Westphalia Telephone Company over-billed the telco to the tune of $12 million, and were demanding AT&T pay another $4.3 million in errant charges for interstate connections. AT&T complained to the FCC, stating that Sections 201(b), 203 and 208 of the Communications Act (cough Title II) prohibit such charges when they are not “just and reasonable.” The FCC agreed, and sided in AT&T’s favor:

“We agree with AT&T,” the FCC wrote. “We find that GLC violated the Commission?s Rules governing competitive local exchange carrier tariffs for interstate access services, and that the tariff therefore is unlawful. We also grant AT&T?s claim in Count III that WTC unlawfully billed for services prior to May 2013 that GLC provided.”

Just in case it’s not clear, AT&T’s using Title II to defend itself from over-billing, but has thrown a series of increasingly hostile hissy fits at the very idea the same standards could be applied to defend consumers from AT&T. AT&T’s of course not alone in simultaneously demonizing a “regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s” while benefiting from it. Verizon has enjoyed massive tax breaks for years when it comes to classifying portions of its FiOS network under Title II. The wireless industry also witnessed a decade of explosive growth and profit while wireless voice remained classified under Title II.

That’s because it’s not really Title II the telcos are worried about. All they’re worried about are the billions they stand to lose should a regulator be able to defend consumers from anti-competitive behavior. As such, it’s never really been specifically about Title II — it has simply been about government daring — for probably the first time in fifteen years — to stand up to broadband ISPs when it comes to seriously protecting consumers.

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Companies: at&t, great lakes comnet, westphalia telephone company

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