AT&T Raises Eyebrows With Call for Internet Bill of Rights

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In an open letter and a series of full-page ads in major newspapers, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on Wednesday urged Congress to enact an Internet Bill of Rights and to bring the Net neutrality debate to an end.

Although AT&T supported the Federal Communications Commission’s December vote to repeal its Net neutrality rules, the company has called on legislators to establish new laws to regulate the Internet.

AT&T wants to make sure there is a transparent and open Internet for all consumers, Stephenson maintained.

“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,” Stephenson wrote in the open letter.

AT&T objected to regulation under Title II, but it supported the Net neutrality rules the FCC established in 2010, which did not rely on Title II regulations, noted company spokesperson Michael Balmoris.

“The purpose of today’s open letter calling for an Internet Bill of Rights was to begin a dialogue on a comprehensive framework for basic consumer protections on the Internet that applies to all Internet companies,” he noted.

Questionable Motives

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who supports a bipartisan resolution that has the backing of 49 Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, criticized AT&T’s call to action in a tweet on Wednesday.

.@ATT wouldn’t have to take out a full-page ad in the @washingtonpost to convince you that they support an open Internet if they did the one thing that permanently protects it: support my CRA resolution to restore #NetNeutrality.

— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 24, 2018

Open Internet advocacy groups also questioned how AT&T could reconcile its request for congressional action with past efforts to revoke Title II.

Fight for the Future characterized AT&T’s move a “cynical attempt at misinformation” and said “zero real Net neutrality supporters are fooled” by the open letter.

“AT&T is full of it, and this latest push from them reeks of desperation,” Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, told the E-Commerce Times.

AT&T’s push for congressional action falls short, according to Public Knowledge vice president Chris Lewis, because concerns go well beyond pure Net neutrality issues, and it could take years for Congress to upgrade federal communications law for the modern age.

“First things first,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Let’s make sure consumers are protected with this basic Net neutrality protection.”

Uphill Climb

AT&T is one of the few major broadband companies that will benefit from Net neutrality being overturned, according to Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Verizon and Comcast are also in that group.

It’s very unlikely that Congress will be able to roll back the FCC’s decision, he told the E-Commerce Times, because the commission carried out a policy favored by the Trump administration, and the current Congress has done very little to push back.

The AT&T campaign could be a reaction to the groundswell of opposition to the FCC repeal coming from consumers and Silicon Valley, argued independent analyst Jeff Kagan.

“While I believe AT&T is happy with the recent FCC decision on Net neutrality, they see the writing on the wall that the other side will simply not stop,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

In the meantime, the U.S. General Accounting Office has agreed to investigate potential fraud in connection with the FCC’s rules reversal. Net neutrality proponents have alleged that 2 million fake public comments were published in an effort to sway opinions during the process that led up to last month’s FCC 3-2 vote.

The investigation should begin in about five months, according to GAO spokesperson Chuck Young.

“Once it gets under way, one of the first steps will be to determine the exact scope of what we will cover and the methodology to be used,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is leading a coalition of 22 states that are suing to restore Net neutrality, praised the GAO decision to investigate. His office has been investigating the fake comments since last spring, as submitting comments using stolen identities of real people constitutes a crime under New York state law.

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