AT&T supports spirit, not strict rules of net neutrality

AT&T said that while it supports the principle of net neutrality, it does not think that strict, prescriptive new regulations are needed, especially for wireless broadband.

In a letter to the FCC, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of legislative and external affairs, wrote that "preserving the open character of the Internet is critically important to ensuring that all consumers have the opportunity to be creators of content and innovators from their homes or their garages." Cicconi argued the FCC should focus on "unreasonable and anti-competitive discrimination" if it moves forward with a non-discrimination net neutrality regulation.

In the letter AT&T sought to cast itself as being on the side of both Verizon Wireless and Google in the net neutrality debate; Verizon and Google have generally applauded the FCC's goal of strengthening net neutrality guidelines. AT&T said it also believes broadband providers should have the flexibility to manage their networks, so long as they do so "reasonably, consistent with their customers' preferences, and don't unreasonably discriminate in ways that either harm users or are anti-competitive."

In October, the FCC voted to approve preliminary net neutrality regulations that would apply to both wireless and wireline networks. Comments on the proposal are due Jan. 14, and reply comments are due March 5.

Cicconi wrote AT&T believes that while "specific, prescriptive regulatory requirements are not needed to accomplish this objective--particularly in the robustly competitive wireless broadband environment where there are a multitude of complex network management challenges," any non-discrimination rule should be flexible.

"By contrast, a strict nondiscrimination standard could inadvertently limit the availability of creative and innovative services that consumers may want to purchase," Cicconi wrote. "Worse still, a strict nondiscrimination rule would completely ban voluntary commercial agreements for the paid provision of certain value-added broadband services which would needlessly deprive market participants, including content providers, from willingly obtaining services that could improve consumers' Internet experiences. Thus, such a ban could harm innovation and potentially delay critical infrastructure investment by prohibiting services that prove to be neither anti-consumer nor anti-competitive."

Net neutrality proponents assailed AT&T's position. "AT&T has tried to draw what is an imaginary line among types of discrimination," Gigi Sohn, president of the advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. "The company advised the FCC that while 'unreasonable' discrimination can be banned, any discrimination caused by 'voluntary commercial agreements' is just fine because the parties involved agreed to it. That is nonsense."

Ben Scott, the policy director of Free Press, was more blunt. "It is couched as a compromise, but it is little more than an effort to cajole a toothless rule out of the FCC," he said in a statement.

For more:
- see this Wired article
- see this IDG News Service article
- see this PC Magazine article
- see AT&T's letter

Related Articles:
FCC's Baker skeptical of net neutrality for wireless
FCC approves preliminary net neutrality rules
Verizon's Seidenberg blasts net neutrality as debate continues
AT&T urges employees to lobby FCC against net neutrality