While Verizon, Comcast and AT&T may have convinced the FCC to repeal net neutrality, they've still got a steep, uphill climb before they can be comfortable that the repeal is on solid footing, meaning we still have some time before they begin taking full anti-competitive advantage. The FCC's repeal still needs to survive a wall of legal challenges from consumer groups, Mozilla, and nearly half the states in the union. From there, ISPs need to ensure that a future FCC or Congress doesn't just pass new, tougher rules all over again.
That's why Verizon, Comcast and AT&T are all now pushing for a new "net neutrality law" in name only. While the same ISPs that gutted these popular consumer protections insist they're just interested in "putting this contentious issue to bed," the reality is they want a law that pre-empts any future federal or state attempts to protect consumers. As usual, they've managed to get industry marionettes like Martha Blackburn behind the legislative push. Since they've long since demolished any credibility on this subject, there's been little traction in these legislative efforts so far.
But with the power they wield over Congress, they remain dedicated to the cause all the same, and they know full well that many of these kinds of legislative efforts are won by brutal repetition. Enter AT&T, who this week penned yet another blog post insisting that they really love net neutrality just like you!:
"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.
Except the "real action" AT&T wants is little more than a head fake. AT&T's definition of "real action" involves throwing campaign contributions at Congress in exchange for a Congressional "solution" it knows its lawyers will literally be writing. Said law will ban things ISPs never had any intention of doing (the outright blocking of websites), but include so many loopholes as to be effectively meaningless. Again, the goal isn't passing real net neutrality protections -- it's to prevent real, comprehensive protections from being passed later.
A federal law would also pre-empt all of the numerous, state level measures currently winding through state legislatures across half of the States in the nation. Large ISPs convinced their BFF Ajit Pat to include pre-emption language attempting to ban states from protecting consumers in the wake of federal oversight apathy, but that effort rests on pretty shaky and relatively untested legal ground, and ISP lawyers know it.
And amusingly, while AT&T's version of "consumer protections" would be little more than a giant legislative middle finger aimed at consumers, AT&T's Bob Quinn acts as if trying to buy a hollow net neutrality law is some kind of altruistic act:
"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."
You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a company (outside of Verizon and Comcast) that has less credibility on the subject of consumer welfare than AT&T. After all, this is the same company that in the last few years has been fined for ripping off the hearing impaired, helping drug dealers run a directory assistance scam, ripping off a program intended to help the poor, and for actively making their bills harder to understand to help scammers and crammers. AT&T's the company you go to if you want tips on protectionism, the NSA's favorite foods, and regional monopolies, not consumer protection.
Regardless, expect AT&T's push for a new law to continue gaining momentum in the new year as incumbent ISPs grow increasingly nervous about their legal chances in the looming court case. A case that's going to repeatedly highlight all of the shady nonsense that occurred as the FCC rushed to repeal popular consumer protections solely to benefit a handful of telecom monopolies like AT&T.