AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Jan. 24 penned an open letter on the telecom’s website asking Congress to enact an “Internet Bill of Rights.”
Stephenson contends legislation – unlike net neutrality – is required to not only ensure consumers’ rights, but also provide consistent rules for all Internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications.
“It is time for Congress to end the debate once and for all, by writing new laws that govern the Internet and protect consumers,” Stephenson wrote.
The executive’s concern might appear sincere to Rip Van Winkle. But to anyone else paying attention to the net neutrality debate, AT&T is no fan of regulation.
As one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs) along with Comcast, Verizon and Charter Communications, AT&T in 2015 spearheaded legal challenges against FCC-enacted net neutrality guidelines under the Obama Administration mandating an open Internet, among other provisions.
The FCC, in turn, alleged AT&T and Verizon violated open Internet provisions by exempting data caps for proprietary video services on their wireless networks.
In a Dec. 1, 2016 letter from Jon Wilkins, chief, wireless telecommunications bureau at the FCC, the agency said the telecom’s sponsored data program denied “unaffiliated third-party streaming services the same ability to compete on AT&T’s network at similar [financial] terms.”
While Stephenson, in the letter, made no mention of the current FCC under Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai – which rolled back net neutrality provisions earlier this year – he pledged AT&T would not block websites, censor online content, throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content.
“We have publicly committed to these principles for over 10 years,” he wrote.
Gigi Sohn, a former senior staffer at the FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler, bristled at Stephenson’s feigned altruism.
“They’ve done everything in their power to undermine consumer protections, competition, municipal broadband,” Sohn told TechCrunch.com.
She and other net neutrality advocates say the importance of the Internet in the 21st century mandates it be regulated as a utility.
Sohn, and others, believe Stephenson’s ulterior motive is to get Congress to regulate so-called “edge providers” such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Twitter and Microsoft, among others, which have helped redefine how consumers access information and entertainment with little or no regulation or taxation.
FCC chairman Pai, in a speech last November, decried edge providers as the real threat to the Internet and consumer rights through ideology and other subjective criteria.
“They might cloak their advocacy in the public interest, but the real interest of these Internet giants is in using the regulatory process to cement their dominance in the Internet economy,” Pai told R Street Institute, a New York-based free market think tank.