AT&T Promises to Embrace Net Neutrality (but needs a little something in return)

by Matt Klassen on June 9, 2015

AT&T has fought tooth and nail to oppose the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality regulations, calling them a “a tragic step in the wrong direction,” stating that such rules will inhibit network advancement, threatening to halt its own development plans in protest, and even filing lawsuits against the FCC to challenge the legal foundation for such standards.

But despite its vehement stance against Net Neutrality it seems all Ma Bell needed to change its tack is a little quid pro quo, as according to a report in The Washington Post, the company has indicated it will drop its opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality regulations if regulators approve its pending acquisition of DirecTV.

Of course we would be foolish to think that AT&T is actually supporting Net Neutrality (it has only promised to stop its opposition and abide by the rules), as even without AT&T’s hat in the ring the FCC’s open Internet regulations still face considerable legal hurdles, and AT&T representatives have themselves publicly stated that the company is now confident the Net Neutrality standards will have little to no actual impact on the market—the more onerous parts likely to be overturned through these lawsuits—meaning that AT&T’s bargaining chip is about as hollow as they come; the company promising to back standards it’s confident will be overturned in short order in exchange for regulatory approval.

Now regardless of AT&T’s motivations behind its hollow support of Net Neutrality, if such an agreement does prove true it would, as Engadget’s Steve Dent writes, likely represent “a small crack in the determination of carriers to fight net neutrality tooth and nail.” In fact, we’ve previously seen Comcast vow to abandon its now defunct merger proposal with TWC before it would bend the knee to the FCC and accept Net Neutrality.

With AT&T’s rumoured agreement, the company would reportedly agree to abide by a number of foundational Net Neutrality principles, such as a ban on throttling websites, avoiding any arbitrary blocking of web sites, and a ban on paid preferential tiered services (fast and slow lanes). There still remain certain issues like interconnection, where content providers (like Netflix) pay operators for direct routing. The FCC would like such routing to happen for free, but AT&T wants to retain the deals it already has in place with private content providers.

But again, AT&T’s Net Neutrality concessions seem hollow indeed, given the company’s recent shameless overconfidence that they’ll be overturned in the courts. “We have seen the way the rules came out… and as we read those rules we do believe they are subject to modification by the courts,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in a recent interview. “So we’ve said we’re going to invest around $18 billion this year. That will allow us to deploy a wireless broadband solution to 13 million homes around the U.S.”

Now that being said, AT&T’s pledge to abide by Net Neutrality would reportedly be binding even if the standards were overturned in the courts, which raises the question of, for how long would AT&T agree to these rules? But whatever the number, it clearly thinks it’s worth it if the company is able to land its landmark acquisition of DirecTV.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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