Pickett’s Charge Redux

Posted by: Bob Quinn on May 11, 2010 at 4:21 pm

I’ve had some time to step back a bit from last week’s FCC announcement,  in which the Chairman and General Counsel laid out a plan to go down the path of applying 75 year-old monopoly voice (Title II) regulation to the 21st century broadband Internet.  I have to admit that while some issues have crystallized, others leave me a bit puzzled with the approach outlined by General Counsel Schlick.

For starters, I think analysts and market reaction to the FCC’s decision (as evident by the cable stocks, which have never before lived under the Title II umbrella) confirms our fears from the outset that heavy-handed regulation (however you try to spin it) will inject a great deal of uncertainty into an already jittery marketplace.  So, I am left pondering many questions. Most notably, what does the Commission think it will actually accomplish with this proposal?

I will leave aside the perplexing assertion that the  proposal appears to be based on the dissenting opinion by Justice Scalia in the Supreme Court Brand X case, in which he and two other justices would have reversed the FCC and not applied Chevron deference to its views. If there’s a SNL for telecom geeks, I know there is a funny skit in there somewhere.

Equally interesting were Commission statements that were pretty clear that reclassification of Title II would not apply to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but only to the transmission facility used by the ISP to provide Internet access service.  Allow me an overly wonkish moment: AT&T sells a DSL transport service to competitive ISPs (in fact, we had a merger commitment on this issue in the AT&T/BellSouth merger after EarthLink raised concerns that we might withdraw that service from the market post merger).  The competitive ISP buys that service from us and couples it with its Internet access services and sells the whole package to the consumer as a retail Internet service.

Under the Commission’s “third way” proposal, net neutrality rules will not apply to ISPs like EarthLink or for that matter any other ISPs, including AT&T or cable companies.

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Announcing the Free Press Contest for Excellence in Nonsensical Abstractions

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on May 7, 2010 at 3:04 pm

UPDATE: The contest has ended. To view the winning entry please check here.

In 2006, then Senator Ted Stevens was pilloried for comparing the Internet to “a series of tubes.”  Today, a Free Press spokesman has done him one better.

According to Free Press, “the ‘Internet’ is not the wires that deliver the content and applications, but the content itself.”  I suppose this would come as a bit of a surprise to the participants in the Internet Engineering Task Force, who seem to be under the misimpression that the Internet consists of interconnected networks running the IP protocol.  Perhaps Free Press will petition them to re-name their group the InterNOT Engineering Task Force.

In any case, we here at AT&T are sponsoring a contest in honor of Free Press.  We’re looking for the best analogy to capture the spirit of nonsensical abstraction embodied in Free Press’s effort to define networks out of the Internet.  For example, one might say “a swimming pool is not the floor and walls of the structure, but simply the water in it.”  Or “a cannoli is not the pastry tube, but simply the cream inside.”  I think you get the idea.

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AT&T Response to FCC Chairman’s ‘A Third Way’ Broadband Announcement

Posted by: Jim Cicconi on May 6, 2010 at 4:21 pm

We are deeply disappointed that, in order to deal with an adverse court decision, the FCC chairman has decided to subject all broadband facilities, including Internet backbones, to common carriage regulation under Title II.  We believe this is without legal basis.  Make no mistake—when it regulates the networks that comprise the Internet, the FCC is in fact, and for the first time, regulating the Internet itself.  There is no statutory basis for doing so—indeed it is directly contrary to Congress’s stated intentions—and is being done without any compelling evidence that would justify a reversal of the FCC’s prior decisions on this issue.  If the FCC follows through with the chairman’s stated intent, it will have a direct impact on jobs and investment in one of the areas of the US economy that many hoped could help lead the recovery.

We do not question the chairman’s good faith or his genuine desire to craft a “third way”.  But the fact remains that this approach would subject Internet facilities to some of the most onerous regulatory provisions on the books—provisions drafted in 1934 for a monopoly voice network.  To regulate the most modern Internet technology of the 21st century under a model designed for a different era is hard to explain and even harder to justify legally. 

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The ‘Satanic Flashbulbs’ of Net Neutrality

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on April 30, 2010 at 11:35 am

In 1925, a young Californian claimed to have been told by the angel Gabriel that the world would end at midnight on February 13th. A number of people believed this prophecy including a Long Island housepainter named Robert Reidt who assembled a hillside gathering of believers to meet their fate. When midnight came and went uneventfully, Reidt rationalized that the angel must have meant Pacific time, and he exhorted the crowd to wait for three more hours. Three hours later he chalked up the continued non-occurrence of the extraordinary events to the “Satanic flashbulbs” of the reporters who had shown up.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what this strange story could possibly have to do with broadband policy. I had a bit of a déjà vu experience while reading some of the reply comments filed the other day in the open Internet proceeding, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. Then, while listening to Wednesday’s Open Internet workshop in Seattle, I remembered Reidt and his ridiculous attempts to explain the failure of the apocalyptic prophecy.

In AT&T’s reply comments, we pointed out similar failures on the part of the Internet’s own doomsday prophets, such as Larry Lessig and Tim Wu

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This Ain’t No Buzz Kill

Posted by: AT&T Blog Team on April 29, 2010 at 5:10 pm

The recent focus on the privacy policies of social networks reminded me of the changes to our Privacy Policies made last summer.

When we launched our revamped Privacy Policy last August – we collapsed 17 different Policies into one, plain-language, easy-to-understand set of privacy commitments (take a look at it and tell us what you think).   We are proud of our new Privacy Policy, but agree with the FTC and others that privacy policies alone do not really engage consumers in decisions about how information is collected and used across the range of online services.  In our Policy, we said we would continue to experiment with ways to improve transparency of our services.  Last week we did just that.

We launched buzz.com, a new service linked with our popular Yellow Pages local search site.  Using buzz.com, users can get and receive recommendations from friends, or the entire buzz.com community, on local services and retailers.  For instance, you can search for a local dentist and find the local listings as well as get the unvarnished truth about them from the recommendations of your friends and other buzz.com users.

Obviously, this kind of service doesn’t just depend on the sharing of information — its entire point is the sharing of information.  In fact, one of the most exciting prospects of this service is that you could get recommendations from people you actually know (and therefore can decide for yourself if it is good advice!).   As a result, we wanted to make sure that our users understood exactly what they were signing up for.  So, we took a new and innovative approach.

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