AT&T Pretends To Love Net Neutrality, Joins Tomorrow's Protest With A Straight Face

from the Dracula-supports-blood-donors'-rights dept

You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger enemy of net neutrality than the fine folks at AT&T. The company has a history of all manner of anti-competitive assaults on the open and competitive internet, from blocking customer access to Apple FaceTime unless users subscribed to more expensive plans, to exempting its own content from arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps while penalizing streaming competitors. AT&T also played a starring role in ensuring the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality rules were flimsy garbage, and sued to overturn the agency’s tougher, 2015 rules.

So it’s with a combination of amusement and awe to see the company’s top lobbying and policy head, Bob Quinn, pen a missive over at the AT&T website proudly proclaiming the company will be joining tomorrow’s “day of action protest” in support of keeping the existing rules intact. According to Quinn, the company still opposes the FCC’s popular 2015 consumer protections, but wanted to participate in the protest because that’s just how much the sweethearts at AT&T adore the open internet:

“Tomorrow, AT&T will join the ?Day of Action? for preserving and advancing an open internet. This may seem like an anomaly to many people who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free internet. But that?s exactly the point ? 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. 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.

That is an incredible, astounding line of bullshit.

So one, some of you might recall that the net neutrality debate began in earnest when former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre said in 2005 that he “wasn’t going to let Google ride his pipes for free.” What Whitacre was proposing was using a lack of broadband competition to force companies to pay an arbitrary and duplicative toll to so much as touch the AT&T network. Ed thought he was being pretty clever in forcing other companies to pay for network upgrades, but his comments are what set off concerns that in the absence of real competition we needed rules to keep duopolies from abusing their market dominance.

Like Comcast and Verizon, AT&T is one of several companies that subsequently spent hundreds of millions of dollars to thwart these efforts, yet now would like you to believe they’re somehow still a major ally in the fight to keep the internet healthy and open. And sure, AT&T supports not blocking websites entirely since that’s not something ISPs were ever truly interested in anyway. The net neutrality debate has long since shifted from ham-fisted blocking to more clever applications of anti-competitive intent like interconnection, arbitrary and punitive usage caps, and zero rating.

Quinn’s post is filled with alternative history, including this little gem:

“For more than a decade, whether under a Democratic or Republican administration, AT&T has supported the need for clear and enforceable open internet rules. We supported the efforts of Republican FCC Chairmen to introduce the nation?s first Open Internet Principles. And we welcomed FCC Chairman Genachowski?s Open Internet Order in 2010 and testified before Congress, as a Democratic witness, in support of it.

It should be reiterated that AT&T did support the FCC’s original 2010 rules, but only because they were utter and total garbage, quite literally co-written by AT&T, Verizon and Google to ensure they were filled with loopholes. These loopholes allowed them to pretty much do whatever they wanted — provided they pretended it was for the health and safety of the network. AT&T was also a major reason the rules didn’t apply to wireless. When the FCC shored up those horrible rules in 2015, there was no more vocal opponent than AT&T, which is why this disingenuous prattle about supporting net neutrality is almost high art.

Also… Quinn’s post pretends that the 2010 rules stayed in place until the evil Tom Wheeler overturned them… leaving out the fact that it was actually a lawsuit filed by Verizon that overturned the rules and explicitly told the FCC if it wanted these rules, it needed to use Title II. But in AT&T’s revisionist history all that goes missing:

Unfortunately, in 2015, then-FCC Chairman Wheeler abandoned this carefully crafted framework and instead decided to subject broadband service to an 80-year-old law designed to set rates in the rotary-dial-telephone era. Saddling modern broadband infrastructure and investment decisions with heavy-handed, outdated telephone regulations creates an environment of market uncertainty that does little to advance internet openness. Instead, it jeopardizes the prospects for continued innovation and robust growth we have witnessed since the internet?s creation.

Not any bit of that is accurate. Internet access was under Title II until the mid-2000s and there was a ton of broadband infrastructure buildout (and… competition). And since Wheeler put things back under Title II, investment in broadband has continued.

So what’s AT&T actually up to here? As we’ve mentioned previously, large ISPs want the current rules thrown out, and replaced with entirely new rules drafted by Congress. In an ideal world that would make sense, given that Congressional rules couldn’t be overturned by the partisan whims of the FCC. But AT&T knows that Congress is such a epic shitshow these days that these replacement rules either won’t happen, or they’ll be quite literally written by AT&T lawyers. Quinn would have you simply ignore that our Congress is so awash in AT&T campaign contributions that a real net neutrality law of any worth is all-but impossible:

“The debate around an open internet has been going on for nearly 15 years. In the end, the issue is never really about what the rules should be or whether we should have an open internet. Rather, the debate focuses on whether open internet rules should derive from the 80-year-old Communications Act or some other theory of Congressional authority because the current law predates the internet. Instead of having this debate again, Congress should act now to provide the clear statutory authority that guarantees an open internet for all consumers.”

So again, the goal here isn’t to protect net neutrality. It’s to kill effective and popular rules at the FCC, to gut nearly all regulatory authority over major ISPs, and to replace all of it with fluff, nonsense, and a piece of feel-good legislation that will be quite-literally crafted by AT&T lawyers. It’s a pretty clever policy play by AT&T since it gives the impression they’re not a bunch of anti-competitive jackasses. But AT&T pretending to care about an open internet is like Dracula suddenly professing a heartfelt concern for the plight of blood donors, or Jeffery Dahmer saying he just popped by to lend a helpful hand in the kitchen.

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Comments on “AT&T Pretends To Love Net Neutrality, Joins Tomorrow's Protest With A Straight Face”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hey, if Google and Facebook can go for the cheap, insincere PR shot...

There’s a pretty significant difference between “we’ve been absent from the groups supporting net neutrality in the last couple years” and “we’ve been violently opposed to net neutrality since dial-up was a thing.”

stderric (profile) says:

Unfortunately, in 2015, then-FCC Chairman Wheeler abandoned this carefully crafted framework and instead decided to subject broadband service to an 80-year-old law designed to set rates in the rotary-dial-telephone era … it jeopardizes the prospects for continued innovation and robust growth we have witnessed since the internet’s creation.

The absurdity of this gave me what I thought, at first, was a sort of zen koan-induced enlightenment. Now I’m pretty sure it was just a self-defensive stroke.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

The 80 Year Old Rules Hold Up Fine

It’s easy to bash on 80 year old rules and Title II. The reason is that it seems silly, at first blush, to try to use 80 year old rules to regulate something as modern as the Internet.

But, Title II does NOT regulate technology and the Internet. The parts Tom Wheeler used were about ECONOMICS, and that, my friends, doesn’t change over 80 years. Here’s a few things that are, unlike technology, exactly the same now as they were 80 years ago:

– Supply and demand
– Monopoly
– Duopoly
– Market control, price control
– anti-competitive measures
– anti-trust

Title II allowed the FCC to limit ISPs from behaving in an anti-trust way, to abuse their market power wielded from monopoly or duopoly, to gouge customers, limit market entry from new competitors, and to expand vertically using their monopoly markets as a cudgel.

Once again, the above paragraph needs no mention of technology, the net, HTML5, LTE, QAM, FEC, or 5G. Wheeler’s use of Title II is about economics and markets, and is as valid today as it was then.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

AT&T isn't Verizon

I hate to have to tell you this, but AT&T and Verizon are two different companies. The 2010 Open Internet Order was dictated by the White House in the basis of compromise between Google and Verizon, and the lawsuit against that regulation was Verizon acting on its own.

Congress is no more a shit show than the Wheeler FCC was, an organization totally acting on the whims of a junior White House staffer. The Congressional bill on net neutrality was drafted in 2010 by Democratic and Republican staffers. I saw the drafts at the time.

Try doing some journalism instead of simply pulling insults out of your ass.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: AT&T isn't Verizon

What on Earth are you talking about?

AT&T sued the FCC, after Verizon did. It’s linked in the third sentence of the article. It’s got a copy of the filing and everything. It says "AT&T INC, Petitioner, v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondents" right up at the top.

Try reading the article instead of simply pulling insults out of your ass.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Re: Re: AT&T isn't Verizon

Verizon challenged the 2010 order but AT&T did not. Everybody challenged the 2015 order because Title II is garbage.

The article also falsely claims: “Internet access was under Title II until the mid-2000s…” But in reality, Internet access was under Title I and its predecessor from 198, with two exceptions: DSL was under Title II from the mid-90s until 2005 because it runs on phone wires. Cable modem was never under Title II until Wheeler was ordered by the White House to over-regulate it for political purposes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: AT&T isn't Verizon

None are our friends, not google/facebook, not verizon/at&t, who stated otherwise?

One thing is for sure, Google gives my all video and music i would ever watch, mail, maps, games, etc in exchange of advertising and my data (aka for free).

AT&T gives me internet and cell phone in exchange of 100+ monthly dollars of my hard earned cash. And wants to destroy net neutrality.

Both are evil, but one is more.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 AT&T isn't Verizon

Again, google gives me all the video i want, in exchange of some ads (provided i don’t use an adblocker) and in exchange of my info (provided I give all my info blindly and I don’t use a VPN or my ISP don’t provide some form of obfuscation). Partially agree with you. I may or may not be the product.

AT&T on the other hand gives me few video and monopolistic service in exchange of 100 usd dollars per month, plus a ton of ads too and plus they also sell my information. So in this scenario I may or may not be the product, but I am certainly a cash cow.

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