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AT&T Takes New Neutrality Approach In Letter To FCC

in FCC/Net Neutrality/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2009 – AT&T attempted to set the tone of compromise regarding proposed rules to regulate internet access to support so-called Net neutrality principles in a letter it sent Tuesday to the Federal Communications Commission.

James Cicconi, a senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs for AT&T, wrote that nearly all parties involved in the debate seem to agree on the need to preserve the open character of the internet, the importance of consumer interests remaining at the top of any internet policy agenda, and that government policy should expand incentives to drive private investment.

Cicconi voiced support for a letter filed (PDF) by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to the FCC in October on proposed Net neutrality rules. AT&T also referenced an October 21 blog post by Verizon Wireless and Google on finding common ground in the open internet debate.

“[C]onsistent with Senator Snowe’s observations, Verizon Wireless and Google also both recognized the importance of private investment for ‘increasing broadband capacity and the intelligence of networks,’ thereby ‘creating the infrastructure to support ever more sophisticated applications. As discussed, AT&T supports Commission efforts to achieve these same objectives,” reads the letter.

AT&T warns that if the FCC “goes beyond the status quo in this proceeding” it should consider the framework proposed by Snowe, and “echoed, in our view, by Verizon Wireless and Google, which eschews a strict nondiscrimination standard and instead focuses on ‘unreasonable and anticompetitive forms of discrimination that adversely affect consumers.”

“By focusing on unreasonable and anticompetitive discrimination, the Commission can enable innovation to occur at all levels of the Internet but still maintain the ability to respond on a case-by-case basis to allegations of unreasonable and anticompetitive conduct that materially harms consumers," he said.

"By contrast, a strict nondiscrimination standard could inadvertently limit the availability of creative and innovative services that consumers may want to purchase. Worse still, a strict nondiscrimination rule would completely ban voluntary commercial agreements for the paid provision of certain value-added broadband services which would needlessly deprive market participants, including content providers, from willingly obtaining services that could improve consumers’ Internet experiences,” writes Cicconi.

“Thus, such a ban could harm innovation and potentially delay critical infrastructure investment by prohibiting services that prove to be neither anti-consumer nor anti-competitive. While some of these services may in the end be classified as “managed services” that are not subject to the proposed rules, we believe there should be no regulatory uncertainty when it comes to innovation and that Senator Snowe’s framework would help ensure that result,” continues the letter.

Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott responded to AT&T’s letter by saying the proposal “would allow them to violate the core principle of Net Neutrality—letting them control the Internet by picking winners and losers in a pay-for-play scheme.”

The letter is “couched as a compromise, but it is little more than an effort to cajole a toothless rule out of the FCC. Make no mistake, AT&T opposes Net Neutrality. Their proposed solution is a bait and switch. As bait, they ask to return to a standard of nondiscrimination that was long applied to the telephone network. But they fail to mention that this standard was part of a system of pro-competitive common carriage rules that they have railed against applying to broadband networks for years,” said Scott.

Winter covered technology policy issues for five-and-a-half years as a reporter for the National Journal Group. She has worked for USA Today, the Washington Times, the Magazine Group, the State Department’s International Visitor’s Program, and the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. She also taught English at a university in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

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