AT&T's Bogus 'Internet Bill Of Rights' Aims To Undermine Net Neutrality, Foist Regulation Upon Silicon Valley Competitors

from the sorry,-nobody-believes-you dept

As we've been warning for a while, the next phase in the war on net neutrality for giant ISPs is pushing a new "net neutrality law" in name only. ISPs are nervous that the FCC's net neutrality repeal won't survive a court challenge due to the numerous instances of fraud and other procedural gaffes. As such, they've convinced blindly-loyal lawmakers like Marsha Blackburn to push fake net neutrality legislation whose entire purpose is to prevent the FCC's 2015 rules from being restored, or real, tough rules from being passed later.

These proposed "solutions" ban behaviors ISPs had no intention of doing (like the ham-fisted blocking of websites), but avoid addressing any of the numerous areas where net neutrality violations now occur, from usage caps, overage fees and zero rating, to interconnection shenanigans designed to drive up costs for streaming video competitors like Netflix. But with Democrats hoping to use net neutrality as a wedge issue in the coming midterms (and pushing for a repeal reversal via the CRA), these bogus solutions haven't seen much traction outside of paid editorial support by telecom lobbyists.

Enter AT&T, who this week bought full-page ad space in the New York Times and Washington Post to publish this love letter from AT&T CEO Randal Stephenson to American consumers. In it, Stephenson proclaims that despite having spent millions trying to gut consumer protections of every color, the company is a breathless advocate for the "open internet," and is really eager to lead the charge for "new laws that govern the internet and protect consumers":

"But the commitment of one company is not enough. Congressional action is needed to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users. Legislation would not only ensure consumers’ rights are protected, but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications. In the very near future, technological advances like self-driving cars, remote surgery and augmented reality will demand even greater performance from the internet. Without predictable rules for how the internet works, it will be difficult to meet the demands of these new technology advances.

Of course if you've been following along at home, AT&T is the very last company that should be giving advice on any of these subjects. In recent years, AT&T has been fined $18.6 million for helping to rip off programs for the hearing impaired; $10.4 million for ripping off programs for low-income families; $105 million for helping "crammers" rip off its customers by making bills intentionally harder to understand, and for playing a starring role in gutting both net neutrality and broadband privacy protections.

AT&T's also repeatedly violated net neutrality and consumer privacy, whether that entailed blocking FaceTime to drive wireless users to more expensive options, or exempting its own content from usage caps to give itself an unfair advantage in the market. And who could forget that time that AT&T was caught alongside Verizon covertly modifying user packets to track people around the internet without their knowledge? AT&T's also smack dab in the middle of an effort to gut FCC, FTC and state authority over broadband providers.

Again, AT&T's actual goal here is three-fold. One, get a shitty, loophole-filled net neutrality law on the books that would pre-empt efforts to restore the FCC's 2015 rules or any Congressional or FCC attempt to pass real, tough rules down the line. Two, get a shitty net neutrality law on the books to supplant state efforts to protect net neutrality in the wake of AT&T-lobbied federal apathy. Three, impose new regulation on the likes of Google and Facebook as it attempts to buy Time Warner for $86 billion and jump into the Millennial advertising race.

AT&T has long complained that net neutrality and privacy rules applied to its broadband businesses aren't fair because the same, exact rules aren't being applied to the likes of Google and Facebook. But that argument ignores the fact that broadband is a uniquely broken market, where consumers often don't have the choice of numerous ISPs. Net neutrality violations were just a symptom of limited competition, and net neutrality rules were a temporary band aid until somebody in government grows a spine and embraces policies that drive actual competition. AT&T, as you might have noticed, wants neither competition nor real oversight.

Unsrurpsingly, groups that actually fight for consumer welfare weren't particularly impressed by AT&T's head fake:

“It would be a lot easier to take AT&T at their word if they hadn't spent more than $16 million last year alone lobbying to kill net neutrality and privacy protections for Internet users,” said Evan Greer, an activist with the pro-net neutrality group Fight for the Future. “Internet activists have been warning for months that the big ISPs plan has always been to gut the rules at the FCC and then use the 'crisis' they created to ram through bad legislation in the name of 'saving' net neutrality."

Keep in mind, Blackburn's fake net neutrality law is likely just the first of many shitty legislative proposals you'll see pushed by the mega-ISPs as they grow increasingly nervous the FCC's ham-fisted repeal won't survive court challenge. But you'll be hard pressed to get AT&T to actually sign off on a net neutrality law that actually does much of anything useful, and net neutrality supporters will need to tread carefully before throwing their support behind "solutions" to problems the ISPs themselves created.


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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
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    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 12:30pm

    Re: With any luck...

    > "foisted upon their own petards" -- Is not just typographical error, but drunken or doped kind. The phrase you flail at has "H" as in "hoist", and not past tense "-ed", either, and "with" not "upon", because "petard" is an explosive sappers used. -- Oh, and yes, I know what "petard" means in French, and I always pronounce the "d" cause no Frog is going to control MY speech.

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