So, today is another “Day of Action” for net neutrality advocates across the United States. We are supporting today’s Day of Action just as we did last summer’s Day of Action. But also like last summer, we support real action – actual legislation from Congress that places the pillars of net neutrality into law and applies those pillars across the internet for the benefit of all consumers.
We received criticism from a certain corner of this debate last year for our support of the Day of Action and I expect we will hear from those same folks again today. But no matter what some of the advocates argue, AT&T has supported enforceable net neutrality rules that do not crush investment incentives for over 10 years; there is nothing weak about them. The simple reality is that we won’t achieve those rules unless and until Congress acts. So, for today’s Day of Action, we reiterate our call for a Federal Consumer Bill of Rights that provides consumers with openness, transparency and privacy protections no matter where they go on the internet.
Net neutrality has been an emotional issue for a lot of people over the past 10 years. People care about their ability to access the internet and we agree with those folks and respect that. For much of those 10 years, there has been relative agreement over what those rules should be: don’t block websites; censor online content; or throttle, degrade or discriminate in network performance based on content; and disclose to consumers how you manage your network to make that happen. AT&T has been publicly committed to those principles almost since this debate began and has continually asked Congress to enact legislation which covers all of those points. We also support explicit privacy rules that would be enforced by the United States’ expert privacy agency, the Federal Trade Commission.
In January, our Chairman and CEO, Randall Stephenson, reiterated that call and suggested that consumers should be afforded those protections across all platforms on the internet. Why should a consumer’s right to privacy, transparency, no censorship and openness be limited to some platforms but not others? That just doesn’t make any sense. On this latest Day of Action, we want it to be clear that AT&T supports a Federal Consumer Bill of Rights that offers consumers protections across all internet platforms.
But no discussion of net neutrality would be complete without also addressing the topic of paid prioritization. Let me start by saying that the issue of paid prioritization has always been hazy and theoretical. The business models for services that would require end-to-end management have only recently begun to come into focus. The rhetoric of this debate has centered on the concept of prohibiting fast lanes and slow lanes on the internet. Let me clear about this – AT&T is not interested in creating fast lanes and slow lanes on anyone’s internet.
What we do care about is enabling innovative new technologies like autonomous cars, remote surgery, enhanced first responder communications and virtual reality services, which are real-time interactive services that require end-to-end management in order to make those services work for consumers and public safety. Consumers want those innovations and they want them to always work. We have consistently felt consumer choice in this area was paramount. I think we can all agree that the packets directing autonomous cars, robotic surgeries or public safety communications must not drop. Ever. So, let’s address concerns around paid prioritization without impacting those innovations.
One problem with the 2015 FCC decision was that the regulations appeared to capture services like these managed end-to-end services and required innovators and internet providers to seek government permission to make sure these services would not run afoul of the ban on paid prioritization (a departure from the 2010 rules which AT&T supported). My intent is not to dredge up an old debate but rather to suggest that, as we strive to reach consensus on a consumer framework for the internet, we have a conversation to figure out how to ban fast lanes and slow lanes, while also ensuring that innovative, new real-time technologies like those described above continue to live in a world where permission-less innovation exists.
Both sides of this debate can continue to live in a world where we throw shade at one another and call into question each other’s motives, or we can put history aside and work together to provide consumers the internet they want and deserve. On this Day of Action, rather than support a CRA process, which only delays us from really providing consumers some basic protections on the internet, AT&T supports the opening of a dialogue to solve this vexing issue through legislation once and for all.