AT&T Says The Real Problem With The Internet Is We Pay Too Much Attention To Giant ISPs

from the ill-communication dept

As Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook face all manner of (justified) regulatory scrutiny, telecom has been able to somehow remove itself from the conversation, despite engaging in many of the same (if not worse) behaviors over the years. While Congress obsesses about new ways to regulate "big tech," the US government has oddly been busy neutering all oversight of "big telecom". That's at least partially by design; giants like AT&T and Comcast have spent years pushing for the hyper regulation of companies telecom increasingly competes with in the online ad space.

The result: as Silicon Valley faces an endless cavalcade of daily DC and press outrage, the telecom sector has suddenly little to no scrutiny whatsoever. Whether it's the speed at which the competition-eroding T-Mobile merger is being shoveled through the DOJ and FCC, or the blind eye being turned to major telecom privacy scandals (like location data), telecom lobbyists have been on a successful tear convincing well-heeled DC lawmakers to ignore the massive, obvious monopoly, privacy, and competition issues inherent in telecom to focus exclusively on the problems in "big tech."

AT&T's top lobbying and policy man, Jim Cicconi, was recently brought out of retirement to (in part) help tackle both the looming privacy minefield and an ongoing revolt among investors who have grown tired of AT&T's focus on growth for growth's sake. In a treatise nobody asked for, Cicconi this week shared his thoughts on recent missives at the NY Times exploring how the bloom of optimism has fallen from the internet rose in recent years.

The Times package focuses on everything from US broadband coverage woes to the rise of internet misinformation. But Cecconi's takeaway from the package, unsurprisingly, is somehow that broadband providers are yesterday's news and no longer worth talking about:

"Notably, nowhere does the series discuss internet service provider (ISP)-based open internet misconduct or concerns, and for good reason. As intervening events in the last few years have dramatically exposed how the internet is being used, misused and manipulated by a variety of internet players, ISP-centric arguments have quickly become yesterday’s policy story."

This idea that the hugely unpopular telecom sector is an innocent little angel and Silicon Valley is the only real problem has been a narrative telecom giants have been pushing for a while, and with pretty notable success if you've tracked DC policy conversations and the newswires. But because the Times didn't bother mentioning how telecom is nearly as terrible on privacy as Facebook, doesn't make it untrue. Of course Cicconi and AT&T's real goal is to ensure that whatever regulation and legislation comes from this era of reckoning, it won't include big telecom:

"Yet for the past decade plus, the internet policy debate has been focused almost solely on ISPs, to the exclusion of other online actors. That regulatory myopia has in turn produced the internet we didn’t expect. The true costs and challenges of an interconnected world, which are now only starting to be more fully understood, are the issues that today demand our time, energy and best ideas. As we look back on the debate, I hope that the signs and signals we missed previously will illuminate our path forward."

That's total fantasy. The telecom sector has spent billions of dollars to eliminate consumer protections and government oversight of its businesses over the last few decades. That recently culminated in the FCC's decision to effectively self-immolate at industry's behest, shoveling any remaining telecom oversight to an FTC that lacks the authority or resources to police the sector effectively. The end result: a total accountability vacuum that's letting the telecom sector rip off customers with relative impunity, provided they're moderately clever about it.

Our friend Jim is worried about one thing: that Congress and the states will ruin AT&T's string of good luck with new laws and regulation focused on subjects like privacy and an open internet. And he'd sure appreciate it if the most unpopular business sector in America, fresh on the heels of thirty years of anticompetitive behavior, is excluded entirely from the conversation.

Filed Under: internet, jim cicconi, privacy, regulations, telcos
Companies: at&t

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  1. identicon
    Glenn, 6 Dec 2019 @ 12:57am

    The only problem with the Internet is that we have to go through corporations like AT&T to get to it.

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