Thoughts on Today’s Vote

Posted by: Jim Cicconi on February 26, 2015 at 11:52 am

Perhaps I’m betraying my years, but in Washington policy circles there has always been tension between those interested in solving problems and those who see policy disputes as a test of ideology.  I’d readily admit falling into the former camp, and have the policy scars to prove it.  To be sure, one must have principles and a philosophy of government’s proper role.  But a democracy cannot function when either side lapses into rigidity.  Or worse, when political advantage becomes more important than the nation’s best interest.

In our little world, and in my decades of interaction with it, I’ve felt, and still feel, that the FCC has tried to stay focused on solving problems and avoided turning issues into dogma.  Every chairman in my memory, including the current one, has faced political stampedes of one sort or another.  Yet the agency has always tried to find a middle ground and a consensus win.  They’ve understood that a win, unlike a fight, is the product of reaching out to both sides, and working in a bipartisan way to find a solution.  A win is the product of compromise, thoughtful policy, and a genuine desire to find the answer to a complex set of issues.

We had such a situation – and a bipartisan win – in the 2010 net neutrality rule.  Unfortunately, this was undone by a court decision, facing us with the same situation a second time.  Today, an Administration and an FCC that appeared headed toward another bipartisan win on net neutrality were driven instead to a partisan fight.  The 3-2 FCC vote, along party lines, for sweeping new regulation of the Internet, is a rejection of the compromise win and an embrace, however reluctant, of the political fight. It’s unfortunate that this single issue, more than any other, has over the course of ten years caused a divisive spirit to spread to an agency that has long sought unanimity on significant long term issues, and generally found it.  A 5-0 decision doesn’t leave a lot of room for either side to continue the argument, while a 3-2 decision, particularly on issues of such broad scope, is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.

Does anyone really think Washington needs yet another partisan fight?  Particularly a fight around the Internet, one of the greatest engines of economic growth, investment, and innovation in history?  At AT&T, we’ve supported open Internet principles since they were first enunciated, and we continue to abide by them strictly, and voluntarily, even today.  We supported, and testified in favor of, Chairman Genachowski’s 2010 net neutrality regulations.  And we thought the approach being taken by Chairman Wheeler in exploring a Section 706 regulatory framework was reasonable, and legally sustainable, as well.  We have never argued there should be no regulation in this area, simply that there should be smart regulation.  What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of eighty years ago, live under it.

Instead of a clear set of rules moving forward, with a broad set of agreement behind them, we once again face the uncertainty of litigation, and the very real potential of having to start over – again – in the future.  Partisan decisions taken on 3-2 votes can be undone on similarly partisan 3-2 votes only two years hence.  And FCC decisions made without clear authorization by Congress (and who can honestly argue Congress intended this?) can be undone quickly by Congress or the courts.  This may suit partisans who lust for issues of political division, but it isn’t healthy for the Internet ecosystem, for the economy, or for our political system.  And, followed to its logical conclusion, this will do long-term damage to the FCC as well.

For our part, we will continue to seek a consensus solution, and hopefully bipartisan legislation, even if we are the last voice seeking agreement rather than division.  And we will hope that other voices of reason will emerge, voices who recognize that animosity, exaggeration, demonization and fear-mongering are not a basis on which to make wise national policies.

Comments (64)

Perhaps everyone should reserve their opinions until the full 300+ page ruling is released to the public. This is a lose-lose for both sides of the argument. All the media reports and would have you believe that this is a “win for the little guy”, that Big giant ISP’s have to treat everyone equally. In a nut shell, I’m sure that is true to some degree, but this is way more than that. It doesn’t take almost 400 pages of legal, technical writing to convey that. Hold the ideolagies and arguments until ALL of the facts are presented. No matter which side of the fence you are politically, we can’t have our government making decisions like this while hiding the information. No branch of government or group should have this much power in a representative democracy. Both sides should be holding our government more accountable…TOGETHER! It’s the common ground on which we can start working together on. The focus and arguments are spent way too much on general ideologies and NOT the facts and merits of the bill or decision.

Tim Davis March 2, 2015 at 8:50 am

AT&T provides a service, internet access, to their customers. They then tell content providers that they need to pay AT&T to deliver that content to customers. That is ridiculous and evil. That is the reason Title II was enacted, because of horrible business practices that AT&T and other content providers allowed.

I don’t believe Title II should have been allowed. I wish Google Fiber would just take over. Unfortunately ISP’s have locked consumers into far too few choices, and litigated away most other viable options. You and Comcast would be out of business if we had any real choices.

Fred Steffen March 2, 2015 at 1:11 pm

The govt has absolutely no business legally or otherwise controlling or regulating the internet. The govt (ie:DOD) May have come up with the idea of the internet but it is the providers like ATT that have built up the net and the supporting infrastructure. This is only a move by the Federal govt to extend their hand of taxation and steal from its citizens. In the end, anything the govt touches will be ruined and it’s citizens will be left to pay the bill. If this is not shot down by your Representatives when they vote on it, this move to “Net Neutrality” will only lead to more extensive control and intrusion into our personal lives. There is nothing good about this. It will only harm the free enterprise system of commerce. It will hurt ATT and the working class people who use the internet. It must be stopped!

Bob Tosi March 2, 2015 at 1:33 pm

I’m one that’s actually glad that the ISP providers will not be allowed to determin how fast I should be slowed down when I’m accessing a certain website like Netflix or goggle. It’s understandable why ATT would be upset, they’ve been caught throttling services before.

ThrottledbyATT March 2, 2015 at 1:38 pm

This isnt so much about regulating busines as it is about regulating and stifling free speech and power grabbing once again. As the name implies; the Internet is being Neutered in order to control the truth. Once the masses approach the 10% rate of being informed to the truth, then the elitists begin to rein in freedom. They know that if 10% of the masses become informed, there will be an uprising. It’s the big picture folks.

GLEN HARMER March 2, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I hope whatever decision is made insures consumers have choices for internet. I have one provider that provides internet to my neighborhood. I live in the city and it has been like this for almost 10 years.

Lawrence Chavis March 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm

“At AT&T, we’ve supported open Internet principles since they were first enunciated, and we continue to abide by them strictly, and voluntarily, even today.”

I beg to differ. When your company’s name was SBC, it lobbied the Federal government for the right to compete with the customers to whom it sold Internet carrier services. Then it competed with my ISP, and I had to find another ISP when mine was run it out of business with unfair competition in the form of sudden rate spikes for no apparent reason other than the desire for its customer base. This was repeated several times until I gave in and went with an independent ISP with the resources to withstand attacks from a huge corporation.

In general, Sir, I recommend against statements that begin with “We have always” because you have not always been in charge. For all I know, AT&T has the same cutthroat practices as it did in the 1990s when its name was SBC. Your company has given me no reason to suspect otherwise. Like Comcast, AT&T does not have the practices of a service provider – both of you are better at denying service in my experience.

Brad Morrison March 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

An excellent summation of the current political climate. Whatever the economic and social issues are, they cannot be resolved unilaterally. The Internet has grown into a resource far beyond the scope of the original telephone network and the rules that govern it must be based on sound business and economic principles. Appeasing any single group could impede the development of the Internet and burden both users and providers with unnecessary regulations. The issues are complex. The Internet is not a single entity, owned and operated by any one corporation, government or group, so the needs of many different groups must be fairly balanced. I am dismayed that the current administration has created a partisian battle out of an issue that should be decided by concensus, not by fiat.

Dwight Brosell March 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

A win-win is working together in a bipartisan way to find a solution that will keep small businesses strong and growing in America. We hope the FCC understands that small businesses are the “real backbone of America”.

Ronald Lucas March 4, 2015 at 4:09 pm

Only the worst people alive would oppose net neutrality. The FCC move was intended to prevent ISPs from throttling and blocking internet traffic. How foolish and evil do you have to be to support ISPs resorting to such measures in order to destroy the Internet for their own profit. Anyone who sides with AT&T over consumers in general should consider themselves among the most evil people alive today.

Bufkus Jones March 5, 2015 at 2:33 pm

If your goal is to join Comcast as the most-hated company in America, be my guest.

Those of us in the know regarding technology issues know that your goal is manipulation and subterfuge. You cannot state your actual goals so you resort to lies and misdirection. The problem is–your compnay is doing this in public and your seem to forget that we consumers notice your behavior and that we have our own minds. We will do anything possible to eliminate your companies from our lives. I personally have not been an AT&T customer for years–I will bend over backwards to avoid using your company for everything. In short, you are evil.

Tom Hunter March 6, 2015 at 9:54 am

I find it remarkable that all here are “for” a free and open Internet. Well and good. Such a nirvana must be paid for.

A video services company – and there are several such over the top providers, i.e. Netflix – cannot reasonably expect to consume 50% of the planet’s available bandwidth without…yep…paying for it.

One can argue…”Gee, Bart, but the consumer pays for that.” Indeed they do, with higher rates…often to support network builds for services a given individual might not use.

The net result, on first blush, of the new Title II legislation will in fact be to SLOW the Internet for everyone….not cause some to pay for faster speeds, but for those who should pay to continue to consume an inordinate portion of Internet resources. The inability of large ISPs to charge for that service will mean slower service and higher rates for everyone.

A pipeline has two ends. Dump what you like in one end….only that allowed by physics will emerge from the other!

Bart Hawkins March 6, 2015 at 6:16 pm

This is a self-serving post. AT&T has stated, on the record, that they desire to investigate fast and slow lanes (paid prioritization). That is their idea of “open internet” policies – extort your customer’s actions to make a buck. And have *zero* accountability! This industry deserves what it has gotten in the latest open Internet rules. I’m all for them and hope you are too!

Dave Kalata March 7, 2015 at 12:57 am

I really don’t understand how a consumer would disagree with this decision. ISP’s already charge you for (x) of download speed. They clog the speed to popular sites unless that site also pays them for your “paid service” to reach their IP. SO if I start a website business & it becomes popular, the ISP’s decide to start charging me because people enjoy using my service. Im already paying for servers, workers, programmers, etc. Taxes, advertisement, etc. To all this rule did was make it fair for a customer to receive the services it paid for without worrying about it being bogged down because my ISP want more $ from a website. Netflix & other content providers are nothing but a website with content avail to look at.

TimeCharterCast March 25, 2015 at 8:56 pm

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