Over the past week, there has been a lot written about what happens to the internet assuming the FCC adopts the proposed order, circulated last Wednesday, at its next scheduled open meeting. I would suggest that most of what has been written falls in the category of misinformation and rhetorical excess. I thought I might try something different and attempt to limit us to a discussion of facts. The short answer is, of course, that there will be no change in how your internet works after the order is adopted.
AT&T intends to operate its network the same way AT&T operates its network today: in an open and transparent manner. We will not block websites, we will not throttle or degrade internet traffic based on content, and we will not unfairly discriminate in our treatment of internet traffic (all consistent with the rules that were adopted – and that we supported – in 2010, and the rules in place today). These commitments are laid out in the broadband details section of AT&T’s main website. They represent a guarantee to our customers that we will provide service in an open and transparent way. They have been, and will continue to be, enforceable commitments. We will not remove that language and we will continue to update any changes we make to our network management practices. Those commitments are not new. They have been formally in place in one form or another at AT&T since 2005, and we have also publicly disclosed how we manage internet traffic with a version of our current broadband details description on our website since 2010.
We not only have enforceable commitments on blocking, throttling and discrimination on our own network, we also have incentives to ensure that other ISPs adhere to these same open internet principles. Take, for example, DIRECTV NOW, our over-the-top video service that travels over broadband connections whether owned by AT&T or someone else. We depend on an open internet for this service, and we accordingly conduct ourselves – and will continue to conduct ourselves – in the same manner we expect to be treated when we rely on the infrastructure of others to provide services to our customers.
The day after the FCC’s decision, consumers are going to see no changes to how their internet works. Everyone will be able to access their favorite websites; no one’s traffic will be throttled based on content; and the consumer internet is going to work the same way it did the day before the FCC order is adopted.
Consumers will, however, see enormous benefits from the FCC’s actions. Utility regulation over broadband can only inhibit incentives for network investment. By lifting that cloud here, the FCC will restore the bi-partisan, light-touch regulatory structure that made the United States the world leader in mobile broadband infrastructure. If you have ever wondered why European mobile broadband lagged so far behind the United States over the past decade, you don’t have to look any farther than the differences in regulatory approach which existed in Europe since 2003. Indeed, just as the United States was moving towards utility regulation in 2015, Europe was trying to reform its regulatory approach to mimic the United States post-2003 investment curve.
The doomsayers, of course, have a different view, conspicuously colored by a litany of hypotheticals and hyperbole, and generally devoid of facts. Some are calling this the death of the internet as we know it. The doomsayers, however, have been making these and similar dire predictions for years. In 2010, in response to the first FCC Open Internet rules, Free Press warned:
“These rules don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop. The rules pave the way for AT&T to block your access to third-party applications and to require you to use its own preferred applications.”
Of course, none of those predictions ever came true then and they won’t come true after the FCC acts here either. There will be a lot of talk over the next two weeks on what the FCC’s net neutrality order means. The truth is that, at first, no one will notice a difference in how their internet works. But when the removal of utility regulation translates into greater broadband investment and increased innovation on the internet…well, everyone will eventually notice that.