Say That Again

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
fcc, lies, net neutrality, tricks

Companies:
at&t



AT&T Tricked Its Customers Into Opposing Net Neutrality

from the with-friends-like-these dept

As most of you probably noticed, last week saw a massive, online protest against FCC boss Ajit Pai's plan to completely ignore consumer welfare and gut popular net neutrality protections. Giant ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon responded to the protest in the way they've always done: by comically insisting that the press somehow got it wrong, and these companies actually really love net neutrality -- despite a decade of documented anti-competitive behavior, and the fact they've spent millions upon millions of dollars trying to kill any meaningful neutrality protections.

AT&T took things a bit further by hysterically saying the company loved net neutrality so much, it too would be participating in the protest -- a PR ploy that was pretty soundly ridiculed by ourselves and others. But a deeper look at AT&T's "participation" in the protest found that AT&T used the opportunity to trick its customers into opposing real net neutrality protections -- and convinced many to root against their own self interests.

The Verge was the first to notice that AT&T spent the day sending e-mails and other notifications to customers professing the company's dedication to net neutrality. These missives even showed up on AT&T set top boxes, as several users noted on Twitter:

These notifications have several variations. But all of them directed AT&T customers to this AT&T website where they were informed that AT&T really loves net neutrality (narrator: they don't), and were told to fill out a form letter AT&T said it would forward on to "the FCC and your officials." But the letter doesn't actually support net neutrality. What it supports is the gutting of the existing popular protections and replacement with a Congressional law:

"Simply put, it is time to stop this regulatory see-saw. Consumers need a set of basic online protection and competition rules put in place that will last longer than the next Presidential administration. Congress should pass a law to ensure consumers are always protected and all internet companies compete on a level playing field under a single set of rules."

So in an ideal world, having Congress craft a net neutrality law makes sense -- especially since it would end the game of partisan patty cake that occurs every time a new administration takes office, potentially ending fifteen years of net neutrality debate. The problem, as we've noted several times, is that we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where Congress is bogged down in immense partisan dysfunction, and companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have immense control over both federal and state-level lawmakers.

Their control is so complete, they're often the ones writing awful, anti-competition, protectionist state and federal telecom law. There's a reason AT&T wants to gut the existing, popular rules and replace it with a new law: it knows it will be the one writing it. As such, you can be certain the law -- assuming it got passed at all (not at all likely) would be filled with so many loopholes as to be utterly useless. Despite this grotesque corruption and dysfunction being fairly apparent to anybody with eyes, many reporters have bought into this argument for a new law.

Fortunately a few reporters have been able to see through AT&T's bullshit on this front:

This is all cleverly worded bullshit from people who actually want to dismantle a responsive regulatory agency and cede responsibility back to Congress, which is much slower to act and, where the ISPs are concerned, can be easily bought. All of these ISPs continue to say they love net neutrality with fingers crossed behind their backs.

Make no mistake: AT&T doesn't care about healthy internet competition, level playing fields, or consumer welfare. Its goal is to gut all meaningful oversight of one of the least liked, and least competitive industries in America, and replace it with the policy equivalent of fluff and nonsense. And while there's still many folks that somehow believe that blindly deregulating companies like Comcast will magically result in good ISP behavior and telecom utopia, history has shown us time and time again that logic only tends to make the problem worse.

There's a far simpler way to settle the issue and protect consumers and startups, and that's to leave the existing net neutrality rules alone.


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 4:40am

    Ooooh, that was clever, it tricks users into actively signing the thing that will be used to endorse the enactment of their pet laws. Of course we knew they were up to something but it was a smart tactic that will go unnoticed by most of the people who took time to sign the damned thing.

    Our turn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 6:42am

    Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the type of company that Ajit Pai wants to let police themselves.

    If they're willing to lie and deceive to get this, what else are they going to lie and deceive about? Perhaps nothing? Or perhaps everything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 7:35am

    Avoid all the Fortune500 companies, AT&T included.

    If a company is making so much profit is because IT IS RIPPING YOU OFF!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    stderric (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 7:39am

    used the opportunity to trick its customers into opposing real net neutrality protections -- and convinced many to root against their own self interests.

    Given the building evidence of the last few years (decades?), 'rooting against one's own self interests' will soon culminate in eliminating the middle-man and going straight for voting booths being swapped out for suicide booths.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew M Bennett, 19 Jul 2017 @ 7:50am

    So, I care about Net Neutrality.

    I care a great deal more about keeping the government's stinking hands off of the internet.

    Fighting big company monopolistic behavior by literally asking the government to regulate things is pretty much the stupidest fucking thing. The government never makes things better.

    If you care about Net Neutrality break up the ISPs, let the free market do it's work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:20am

      Re:

      So you don't want government regulations on the internet (that the government created) but you're fine with the government breaking up the ISPs - which is also regulation.

      The only way to have a free market is for the government to stand between the corporations and the people and protect them from each other with laws and regulations. A true government-free market just lets one party take advantage of another.

      Net neutrality isn't about the government regulating the internet. It's about the government regulating the companies that provide access to the internet. The internet itself is doing fine.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Matthew M Bennett, 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:31am

        Re: Re:

        Yes? Breaking up monopolies is one of the few functions of government in a free market.

        Crack open a book on libertarian thought, or an economics textbook, please.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:44am

          Re: Re: Re:

          libertarians do not possess a magical howto book enabling their flawless ideas.

          Most economic experts would not agree with most libertarian proposals on the economy.

          You speak of functions in government as though it were some sort of universal law - like the laws of motion or the laws of thermodynamics. Well, you couldn't be more wrong.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 1:35pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "Most economic experts would not agree with most libertarian proposals on the economy."

            What economic expert wants an economy where the people get to pick and choose what happens? When it comes to economy, no one is an expert. Too many moving parts and the fool that thinks they really know needs to tell me where to put my stocks.

            Last I checked, there are a lot of poor experts calling themselves economic experts! But I sure did notice a lot of RICH people using corruption to twist the economy towards their profits and simultaneously asking for people that have been taught by your "experts". I wonder if there is a connection there.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 3:00pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "expert" as in has experience in the field and possibly some background in study of modeling different economies. Your point is valid, however there some who actually study the subject and there are those who simply claim to.

              There are many who make wild assed suggestions without the least bit of supporting evidence. Example - Brownback and his stupid austerity silliness that is killing the state of Kansas. When it does not work, they say people are not trying hard enough. Sound familiar?

              Libertarian proposals say the people get to choose? Choose what?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          jupiterkansas (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 12:56pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          That all might work in a utopian world, but internet providers can't operate on their own. They have to coordinate with government to use utility poles to provide the service, so with that comes government regulation. Otherwise in a government-free market they would have to negotiate with every single property owner how to run a wire to their home or business.

          The sames goes for wireless, which must use limited spectrum, which must be regulated by the government.

          Government serves a useful purpose, and it's not about letting businesses do whatever they want.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 1:32pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "That all might work in a utopian world, "

            In a utopian world ALL IDEAS work, so that is a non-sequitur argument. Since we cannot get rid of human corruption we must make rules that allow the people to throw off burdensome businesses and rules that prevent the government from picking winners and losers by restricting what they can regulate.

            Regulation is just asking for way more stick than carrot, while expecting to get nothing but carrot. Regulation, just like Government, is a tool of destruction so aim them appropriately, instead of at your foot like you seem to want to do.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:39am

      Re:

      "let the free market do it's work"

      Like that has worked out so well in the past.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 19 Jul 2017 @ 11:15am

      Re:

      I care a great deal more about keeping the government's stinking hands off of the internet.

      ISPs are not the Internet.

      Fighting big company monopolistic behavior by literally asking the government to regulate things is pretty much the stupidest fucking thing. The government never makes things better.

      Child labor laws, bans on asbestos and DDT, fire departments, mandatory breaks, OSHA requirements, requiring a medical license to practice medicine...do I need to bring Chip out?

      If you care about Net Neutrality break up the ISPs, let the free market do it's work.

      What free market?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 12:11pm

      Re:

      Do you happen to have a (sibling / altar ego) named Richard Bennett, by any chance? Little Dick' been infesting Ars Technica's comments with the same quality of anti-NN sputum that you're leaving here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 20 Jul 2017 @ 7:11am

      Re:

      Matthew, if you ever find a free market please let me know. There's never been one, mate.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:21am

    This is why I keep harping on this (and I'm sorry for repeating myself here), but we should be arguing for ISP regulation and not net neutrality. The framing is super important. If ISPs are properly regulated, you get net neutrality without even having to make a case for it and companies like AT&T will have a harder time reframing the debate in their favor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 8:46am

      Re:

      You mean like making the net title two?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 11:38am

        Re: Re:

        That's one approach, but I don't think it's a great one. It would be better to have something tailored specifically to ISPs. For example, some of the title II regulations are no big deal to a Comcast or Time Warner, but if you are a small (probably wireless) ISP with ten subscribers, then it's a pretty significant burden. I think people sometimes forget that there are thousands of ISPs in the US.

        When you have to forbear huge parts to make something work, then perhaps it's time to carve out the specific parts you want and forge a new law.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 19 Jul 2017 @ 9:26am

    It's even sneakier...

    One point that Karl didn't focus on in this post is this line:

    Congress should pass a law to ensure consumers are always protected and all internet companies compete on a level playing field under a single set of rules."

    That's the real rub. They want to lump in not just internet access providers, but also internet companies. The goal here is to saddle lots of internet services with regulations, which AT&T can handle, but other companies cannot. It will be massively damaging for startups.

    This is a key bullshit point they've been focusing on: claiming that if you regulate access providers (who are actual monopolies) you should also regulate service providers on the network, where there's actual competition.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Jul 2017 @ 11:58am

      Re: It's even sneakier...

      That's the danger of pushing net neutrality rather than utility-like regulation for ISPs.

      If we shoot for a strict net neutrality argument, then they have a point. Should Netflix be able to charge FIOS customers more because FIOS is mostly installed in afluent neighborhoods? I don't think so and that's not an actual problem, so lets rest the net neutrality debate for a bit and just talk about ISP practices.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daydream, 19 Jul 2017 @ 4:22pm

      Re: It's even sneakier...

      Um, question; I checked the link above and it says they support transparency, and explicitly oppose blocking, throttling and censorship. Isn't that a good thing?

      And if you asked me, I'd say that a 'level playing field' would refer to approaching perfect competition in the market, like, as in, everyone provides the same quality of internet service and it's easy to enter or exit the market. Wouldn't that be a good thing too?

      --

      Honestly, this time around it looks less like you're dissecting AT&T's words for hidden meaning, and more just accusing them of lying outright.

      I, for one, would like to take them at their word, and hold them to it; no censorship, no throttling, no Hollywood-style Accounting, and yes to emergence of competition.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 19 Jul 2017 @ 5:10pm

        Re: Re: It's even sneakier...

        Honestly, this time around it looks less like you're dissecting AT&T's words for hidden meaning, and more just accusing them of lying outright.

        It's both.

        AT&T is lying about its support of net neutrality.

        It's also using phrases like "all internet companies" to invoke false equivalence. You've probably heard the talking point in the debate over the recent repeal of privacy protections: "Websites track your private data and there are no regulations against that; why shouldn't ISPs be allowed to do so?" The answer of which is, of course, because websites are not ISPs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          MyNameHere (profile), 20 Jul 2017 @ 5:36am

          Re: Re: Re: It's even sneakier...

          Actually, what AT&T is doing is playing the perception of NN (free and open internet) to their own advantage. For AT&T, NN is not a free and open internet but a highly regulated and restrictive framework that makes vertical integration a complete waste.

          They aren't lying - they are just using your own words against you.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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