AT&T's Downright Giddy About Weaker FCC Oversight And The Looming Death Of Net Neutrality
from the who-doesn't-like-zero-accountability? dept
AT&T is pretty damn excited about former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, Trump's new industry-cozy pick to head the FCC. That's in large part because Pai has made it clear his goal isn't just to gut net neutrality, new broadband privacy rules and most of the other consumer protections pushed by former FCC boss and and former dingo Tom Wheeler -- but to help dismantle the agency's role as consumer watchdog entirely. Of course, AT&T put things a little differently in a blog post applauding the selection:
"Today, on his first official day in office, President Trump designated Ajit Pai as the new FCC Chairman. No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace. Chairman Pai will work with his fellow Commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment."
Anybody who actually believes this has simply not been paying attention to Pai's tenure at the agency, during which he consistently refused to stand up to large ISPs in absolutely any capacity. That includes downvotes on numerous attempts to hold AT&T accountable for outright fraud, whether it was the time AT&T was caught actively making its bills more confusing to help make it easier for crammers and scammers, the time AT&T was caught ripping off a program designed to help low income families, or that time AT&T was busted for turning a blind eye to drug dealers running directory assistance scams on AT&T customers.
So sure. AT&T's pretty excited about the fact it's potentially facing little to no accountability for what's a well-documented history of anti-competitive behavior and fraudulent activity. But it's also just thrilled by the idea that net neutrality rules could soon be sent to the digital dustbin of history, allowing AT&T to, in its own words, "go hard" on this whole zero rating thing:
"With a new operator-friendly FCC chairman in place, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said to expect the operator to “go hard” with its controversial “zero rating” strategy for its virtual MVPD service, DirecTV Now.
“Our customers are loving this value proposition,” Stephenson said during AT&T’s fourth quarter earnings call Wednesday. “We have more than 200,000 DirecTV Now customers on it, the service is not counting against their data cap, and that’s a big deal."
Except the "value proposition" AT&T's presenting isn't much of a value at all. Sure, some consumers labor under the illusion they're getting "free stuff" because AT&T's graciously letting them stream AT&T's content without running afoul of its arbitrary usage caps. But in reality, AT&T's preferential treatment of its own content simply repositions the cost burden to competing services while distorting the overall competitive market. You know, like the outgoing FCC told AT&T when it sheepishly and belatedly told the company it was violating net neutrality and acting anticompetitively just a few weeks and a universe ago.
Moving forward, the name of the game for AT&T will be to play kissy face with the new administration in the hopes of blind, blanket deregulation, some lovely tax cuts, additional unaccountable subsidies (these telcos have received billions over the years for networks either barely or half-deployed), and approval for the company's $100 billion acquisition of Time Warner:
"I got to tell you, I was impressed,” Stephenson said (after meeting Donald Trump). “It was obvious I was meeting with a CEO. He has a very clear agenda—tax reform and regulatory reform. I can tell you that he’s focused on these things. And I left with a degree of optimism that this could be pulled off this year."
Describing himself as a “supply-side guy,” Stephenson added that “If you saw tax rates move to 20-25%, we know what we would do. We would step up our investment rate."
In regards to deregulation, he added, “Nobody thinks that regulations should go away. We all believe the customer needs protection. But the problem is that we’ve had regulation that’s unpredictable, and it’s interfering with how we’re designing products, how we enter markets."
AT&T's a master in promising broadband deployment it never actually delivers in exchange for regulatory favors and government handouts, and has been doing it for decades without much fact-checking from the media. AT&T's also incredibly good at bullshitting the press and public into falsely believing that massive telecom megamergers actually create jobs, despite thirty years of documentable history proving the exact opposite.
So despite Trump's campaign-trail promise to block AT&T's latest megamerger (largely believed to be little more than pouting over negative CNN coverage), there's an incredible opportunity here to field a merger sales pitch bullshit supernova -- the scope and scale of which we've never seen before.