AT&T Calls for Online Bill of Rights to Ensure … Neutrality?

Net Neutrality

One of the nation’s largest service providers is petitioning Congress to make a “Bill of Rights” for internet consumers in the wake of net neutrality’s repeal.

A open letter from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says the U.S. legislature needs to develop regulations that ensure “neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users.” The letter, which AT&T promoted in multiple national newspaper advertisements, seeks to assure web users that the carrier is committed to the principles of a fair internet.

AT&T advocated for the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of 2015 internet regulations that prevented internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, slowing access to or charging extra for particular online content — popularly known as net neutrality. Companies like AT&T and Verizon described the Dec. 14 FCC vote to end the regulations as a win for innovation.

AT&T insists that it will still follow the principles of net neutrality without a law in place.

AT&T's Randall Stephenson

AT&T’s Randall Stephenson

“AT&T is committed to an open internet. We don’t block websites. We don’t censor online content. And we don’t throttle, discriminate or degrade network performance based on content. Period,” Stephenson wrote in his letter Wednesday. He added that “the commitment of one company is not enough.”

Stephenson says AT&T, consumer groups and other companies will work with Congress to develop an internet Bill of Rights to protect users.

Some members of Congress haven’t given up on net neutrality. Reuters reports that 50 senators – primarily Democrats – are backing a motion that would overturn the FCC’s vote. The move, however, is unlikely to make it out of the Senate, let alone the House and to the president’s desk. Numerous states might implement regulations of their own to imitate the repealed law. Stephenson did not express support for these initiatives or ask for a reinstatement of the net neutrality law.

If AT&T doesn’t want ISPs to be able to block or throttle network performance because of content, why did AT&T promote the repeal of net neutrality laws?

Brian Fung of the Washington Post writes that the telecommunications giant doesn’t address providers offering tiered rates for the speeds of particular websites and online services. AT&T insists that the internet speeds will not increase or decrease on the basis of content, but that does not preclude speeds from changing on the basis of pay. Fung and industry experts call this “paid prioritization.”

“Industry critics say that allowing so-called paid prioritization is tantamount to creating internet fast lanes for large and wealthy businesses that pay for faster delivery to consumers’ screens, potentially shutting out startups and small businesses,” Fung wrote.

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of the USTelecom trade association, said he agreed with Stephenson’s letter.

“This deep commitment is shared by each and every one of the innovative broadband providers that comprise USTelecom,” Spalter said in a statement. “I applaud his call for an internet Bill of Rights for American consumers and encourage our Congressional leaders to work together to enshrine net-neutrality principles into law.”

Lorna Garey’s November column remains relevant for partners considering the impact of net neutrality’s repeal.

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