AT&T Tries to Garner Sympathy for its Net Neutrality Plight

by Matt Klassen on December 16, 2015

2015.12.04 (1)As judges continue to deliberate over the latest Net Neutrality hearing held earlier this month, AT&T is once again making it known just how onerous and nebulous the regulations are for the industry; regulations that stifle innovation and increase costs for customers. Not only that, but apparently Net Neutrality is a boon for the law industry as well, as Ma Bell has reportedly tasked a legion of lawyers to parse the new rules.

According to AT&T Senior VP Bob Quinn, “Since the Open Internet Order came out we’ve had weekly calls with the business units and literally 15 lawyers who are all trying to figure out whether that stuff we’ve invested in… would be a violation of the order,” he said at the Phoenix Center’s Annual US Telecoms Symposium, and according to an article in Politico cited by Ars Technica, later added, “We’ve had to shelve a bunch of stuff because we’ve got to wait and see.”

But as I’ve said before, it is rants like these that make me doubt the veracity of the claims put forth by the wireless industry, as to date we’ve seen AT&T threaten to halt its development plans, we’ve seen the company make promises to abide by Net Neutrality in exchange for approval of its DirecTV acquisition, we’ve seen Ma Bell confidently predict the death of Net Neutrality, and now, we’ve simply started the process over again. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not moved by AT&T’s plight…or its lawyer fees.

This certainly isn’t the first time AT&T has complained about the regulations, as in November 2014 company CEO Randall Stephenson argued that such Net Neutrality standards would curtail broadband investment and development, and threaten the growth of the Internet, saying that his company would table plans to upgrade its network.

It was a veiled threat the FCC took seriously, which resulted in a surprising about face for AT&T, as earlier this year Stephenson went public again saying he was confident Net Neutrality would be struck down and his company was proceeding with network upgrades as planned. Which of course brings us to today, when Quinn brings us back to the arguments we started with, that Net Neutrality is bad for business…unless you’re a lawyer of course.

We have also seen AT&T attempt to make deals with the FCC regarding Net Neutrality, promising to abide by the standards (for a determined length of time mind you) if the Commission would approve the DirecTV deal (which it did). So far those promises have proved hollow.

Now it seems much of AT&T’s current ire is directed not at the FCC itself, but at the Commission’s failure to stymie AT&T rivals from rolling out their own questionable promotions, particularly T-Mobile and its Binge On offering, which allows users to access streaming music and video without it counting against their data caps. In fact, Quinn reportedly said that “there’s no way AT&T would have been able to first offer something like T-Mobile’s Binge On video streaming plan, since the company couldn’t predict how the FCC would respond.

While a decision from the three-judge panel who heard the arguments for and against Net Neutrality earlier this month likely won’t come to a decision until the new year, it’s clear that AT&T is trying to generate a little sympathy for it’s plight; that Net Neutrality will inhibit it’s ability to gouge customers, to throttle networks, to basically treat the Internet as its personal play thing, without oversight or regulation, and that lawyers are really really expensive, particularly when they’re needed to find loopholes and end-arounds.

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

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