John Stankey, CES of major internet service provider AT&T, thinks revisiting net neutrality is a waste of time.
Speaking Dec. 5 at the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference in New York, he referred to the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to revisit restoring open internet protections (i.e., net neutrality) for consumers and businesses — first enacted during the Bush/Obama Administrations, subsequently scuttled during the Trump Administration, and now revived during the Biden Administration.
“I think there’s kind of an apathetic tone on the issue right now because there isn’t an issue,” the executive said.
Net neutrality became a hot button issue during the Obama Administration when Netflix, which was transitioning away from DVD rentals to streaming video, voiced concerns about third-party ISPs, such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, among others, throttling data speeds due to limited bandwidths at the time.
Specifically, Netflix and other streamers worried ISP network operators could use traffic-management tools to give preferred treatment to certain data streams as well as their own streaming platforms.
Stankey said that with myriad ISPs operating in the market, consumer access to streaming sites has never been better.
“Nobody is walking around saying there was a website I couldn’t get to recently,” he said, arguing there is greater public concern about social media platforms doing something to restrict free speech. “They’re not wondering whether or not the pipe did it; it’s whether or not the person who owns the platform did it.”
The FCC, in its move to restore net neutrality, or re-classifying the internet as a telecommunications entity under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, now argues the issue is not about internet streaming access, but, instead, national security.
The FCC says reclassification of the internet would enhance the government’s ability to respond to national security threats by subjecting ISPs to authorization requirements under Section 214 of the act. The section ensures that the U.S. market is protected against potential anti-competitive behavior by a carrier with market power in a foreign country. The FCC has used this authority to ban several China-affiliated online services from operating in the United States for national security reasons.
Stankey argues the real issues facing ISPs revolve around spectrum capacity for wireless communications.
“Pricing is going to go up because [spectrum] becomes a scarce resource,” he said, arguing that the best way to get a market to operate efficiently is for the government to expand access to wireless spectrum.
“That’s where time and energy should be spent,” Stankey said. “I think we should work on closing the digital divide.”