Beastie Boy Mike D Forces AT&T To Let Shareholders Vote On Net Neutrality

from the you-gotta-fight-for-your-right-to-vooooote-on-a-net-neutrality-policy dept

Yeah, well there's a title I never thought I'd write. It seems that Mike D of the Beastie Boys, along with his wife, filmmaker Tamra Davis, and John Silva (of Silva Artist Management, one of the more forward-thinking artist management groups out there, representing a ton of big name acts), have helped to get the SEC to require telcos (mainly AT&T) to include a resolution among shareholder votes over whether or not those shareholders want the company to support wireless net neutrality concepts. Remember, the telcos have been willing to bend (a tiny bit) on wireline neutrality rules, so long as wireless rules have been exempt. So, letting shareholders vote on a resolution concerning wireless neutrality certainly could become a pretty big deal.

I've said in the past that I'm very, very wary of any net neutrality regulations from the government -- because we've all seen how that works, where the telcos take control of the process, and the end result is quite the opposite of what supporters intended. Regulatory capture can be a big deal. But... I am a big supporter in the importance of the concept of net neutrality and the principles of an end-to-end network. If it can be forced on these companies by shareholder proxy that may be the most compelling solution so far. In the past, the SEC has said this issue was not a big enough issue, and could be omitted from shareholder votes as "ordinary business matters." But, now the SEC has come around to realize that net neutrality is, in fact, a big issue, thanks in part to the letter from a group representing Mike D and the others mentioned above. The SEC responded in a pretty straightforward manner:
In view of the sustained public debate over the last several years concerning net neutrality and the Internet and the increasing recognition that the issue raises significant policy considerations, we do not believe that AT&T may omit the proposal from its proxy materials in reliance on rule 14a-8(i)(7).
Of course, who knows if enough shareholders will vote for such a thing. I could easily see a rather confused Wall Street thinking (incorrectly) that breaking the end-to-end principle would be good for business, even if it erodes network usefulness and value.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Jay (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 4:04pm

    But isn't this the wrong issue?

    I was pretty sure that the problem we actually have is a lack of competition. How would Net Neutrality allow more people to compete on the internet? Even if AT&T is the biggest dog in the yard, shouldn't we be focused on increasing their competition instead of regulating them?

    It's like the old Microsoft. You can regulate, but it won't do much good like having Google, Mozilla, and Ubuntu chipping away at what Microsoft had in their monopolistic power over dialup.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 6:00pm

      Re: But isn't this the wrong issue?

      I was pretty sure that the problem we actually have is a lack of competition

      Yes, that's the larger problem.

      How would Net Neutrality allow more people to compete on the internet?

      You've got it backwards. :) If there were greater competition, no one would dare break net neutrality, or people would go to their competitor.

      Even if AT&T is the biggest dog in the yard, shouldn't we be focused on increasing their competition instead of regulating them?

      This has nothing to do with regulating AT&T.

       

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      chris (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 8:12pm

      Re: But isn't this the wrong issue?

      Even if AT&T is the biggest dog in the yard, shouldn't we be focused on increasing their competition instead of regulating them?

      *IF* AT&T's shareholders were to vote for net neutrality, *AND* AT&T were to tout its net neutrality as a value proposition for its customers, it could force other service providers to do the same in order to remain competitive.

      i'm not optimistic, but at least there is the specter of possibility.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:42pm

    Mike, could you or someone more familiar follow this up with more information on how shareholder voting works? How many shares do we need? Could we do something like we did with SOPA/PIPA and organize a few million people to buy a single share of AT&T stock just so they can vote on Net Neutrality?

     

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      John Thacker, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:48pm

      Re:

      The number of votes you get is equal to the number of shares (roughly, that is. Companies can have any rule that they want, so different classes of shares can be more equal than others).

      AT&T has about 4.5 million shares outstanding. Brokers and mutual fund managers often, but not always, abstain.

       

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        John Thacker, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 6:40pm

        I mean billion

        I mean 4.5 billion shares, roughly 3.5 billion of which vote typically. See here.

        It would be quite hard to get billions of people to each buy one share.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2012 @ 5:58am

          Re: I mean billion

          Whether we can force a change or not, you can be sure that companies will take serious notice if we grab control of a measurable portion of voting rights.

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2012 @ 6:35am

            Re: Re: I mean billion

            Suggest that you get a copy of "Proxy Fights For Dummies" before you go much further.

             

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 9:37pm

        Re: Re:

        The number of votes you get is equal to the number of shares (roughly, that is. Companies can have any rule that they want, so different classes of shares can be more equal than others).

        AT&T has about 4.5 million shares outstanding. Brokers and mutual fund managers often, but not always, abstain.


        If it comes down to a fight, don't you think the shareholders will vote in the way management tells them will maximize the value of the company they own. If you could get enough people to buy a single share of stock, you'd effectively own the company- could fire the management team and happily self-destruct. Good luck with that.

         

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    zegota (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:50pm

    Would this make a difference

    I'm confused why this matters. Is it really likely that a majority of shareholders would vote for neutrality? Would it require more than a simple majority? If "AT&T" didn't support neutrality, doesn't that imply that most of the shareholders probably don't support it either? I realize shareholders don't have power over every little thing, but CEOs/Presidents/Whathaveyou have a *strong* incentive to follow what they want.

     

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    John Thacker, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:52pm

    I think that the network should be end-to-end neutral, but people don't always agree on what "net neutrality" means.

    There have been almost no violations of (wireline) net neutrality in the most limited sense in the US (enough so that the same small violations always get listed, such as the Madison River Communications case of blocking VoIP), and what ones existed got overturned quickly even without any new FCC rules.

    Some people end up putting things like throttling or charging different amounts for different speed tiers in their idea of net neutrality, though, and of course that happens all the time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 5:58pm

    I don't think we need to have a majority. We just need to have more in favor than against if a bunch of the mutual funds and brokers abstain.

     

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      The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 6:33pm

      Re:

      You've gotta fight for your right to p2p.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 9:39pm

      Re:

      I don't think we need to have a majority. We just need to have more in favor than against if a bunch of the mutual funds and brokers abstain.

      They won't abstain if they think the vote is going against the interests of the company's profitability.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2012 @ 5:52am

        Re: Re:

        They won't abstain if they think the vote is going against the interests of the company's profitability.

        So we need to convince them that being openly in support of Net neutrality would be good for the bottom line.

         

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    Ima Fish (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 6:29pm

    "I'm very, very wary of any net neutrality regulations from the government -- because we've all seen how that works"

    It can work, quite easily. Take the same common-carrier laws that applied to landlines and apply them to the internet, both wired and wireless. Problem solved.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 14th, 2012 @ 9:41pm

      Re:

      "I'm very, very wary of any net neutrality regulations from the government -- because we've all seen how that works"

      It can work, quite easily. Take the same common-carrier laws that applied to landlines and apply them to the internet, both wired and wireless. Problem solved.

      No way you'll see Title II applied to the internet. It's an information service, not communications. That premise isn't going anywhere.

       

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        Killercool (profile), Feb 15th, 2012 @ 2:20am

        Re: Re:

        Well, I'm so glad you provided that piece of information to this conversation. The way you communicate your thoughts is quite succinct.

         

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    Greevar (profile), Feb 14th, 2012 @ 11:02pm

    Net neutrality has to be simple.

    There is a risk of government screwing the pooch on NN regulation, so it really needs to be as simple and straight-forward as possible.

    Example: No network provider shall grant preference nor degradation of throughput based on the type of data, device, or source traveling over their network. Network providers may only shape traffic to balance network load.

    This and no more. You get a smaller piece to ensure everyone can have access. It doesn't matter what you're doing. If you are causing congestion, you get throttled. Simple. Adding complexity will only create potential to abuse or circumvent the regulation. Keep it simple, like the Glass-Steagall act.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2012 @ 7:46am

    That is the biggest waste of time. Why would shareholders ever want to vote in favor of net neutrality which will positively put more traffic on their company's already saturated network. It would lower data throughput for all their clients which would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace. Why can't these companies that are demanding net neutrality simply build their own network? AT&T has spent hundreds of billions of dollars building out their network over the years.

     

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      Greevar (profile), Feb 15th, 2012 @ 10:04am

      Re:

      "Why would shareholders ever want to vote in favor of net neutrality which will positively put more traffic on their company's already saturated network."

      [citation needed]

      Do you have any data to back up your claim that their data network is saturated? Even if they are, that doesn't justify opposing net neutrality. That just means they abused an oligopoly and oversold their network capacity.

      "It would lower data throughput for all their clients which would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace."

      [citation needed]

      This can only hold water if your previous point were true. Being that neither of these are supported by any verifiable facts, both are highly suspect. In any case, if such was true, again that would mean that they oversold the network bandwidth. They sold service to too many people and now they're paying for it because people are demanding they stop throttling the network to serve their own ends.

      "AT&T has spent hundreds of billions of dollars building out their network over the years."

      Yes, they've spent so much money on these networks, but that's not all. What about the politicians they've greased to get more power over the market? They're helpless and we need to protect them. They barely make enough to pay their CEOs their seven figure salaries. It would cause irreparable damage to the network if we required them to stop abusing their customers with unfair traffic shaping practices. Won't someone think of the wireless companies? Please?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 15th, 2012 @ 10:13am

    That is the biggest waste of time. Why would shareholders ever want to vote in favor of net neutrality which will positively put more traffic on their company's already saturated network. It would lower data throughput for all their clients which would put them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

    That is the biggest waste of time. Why would Congress ever want to vote in favor of black equality which will positively put more traffic on their communities' already saturated job market? It would lower job prospects for all their white voters which would put the legislators at a competitive disadvantage at election time.

     

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