As most of you probably noticed, last week saw a massive, online protest against FCC boss Ajit Pai's plan to completely ignore consumer welfare and gut popular net neutrality protections. Giant ISPs like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon responded to the protest in the way they've always done: by comically insisting that the press somehow got it wrong, and these companies actually really love net neutrality -- despite a decade of documented anti-competitive behavior, and the fact they've spent millions upon millions of dollars trying to kill any meaningful neutrality protections.
AT&T took things a bit further by hysterically saying the company loved net neutrality so much, it too would be participating in the protest -- a PR ploy that was pretty soundly ridiculed by ourselves and others. But a deeper look at AT&T's "participation" in the protest found that AT&T used the opportunity to trick its customers into opposing real net neutrality protections -- and convinced many to root against their own self interests.
The Verge was the first to notice that AT&T spent the day sending e-mails and other notifications to customers professing the company's dedication to net neutrality. These missives even showed up on AT&T set top boxes, as several users noted on Twitter:
@reckless this what I got on my DirecTV today pic.twitter.com/DUI7KqXTjh
— dlwelch34 (@dlwelch34) July 13, 2017
These notifications have several variations. But all of them directed AT&T customers to this AT&T website where they were informed that AT&T really loves net neutrality (narrator: they don't), and were told to fill out a form letter AT&T said it would forward on to "the FCC and your officials." But the letter doesn't actually support net neutrality. What it supports is the gutting of the existing popular protections and replacement with a Congressional law:
"Simply put, it is time to stop this regulatory see-saw. Consumers need a set of basic online protection and competition rules put in place that will last longer than the next Presidential administration. Congress should pass a law to ensure consumers are always protected and all internet companies compete on a level playing field under a single set of rules."
So in an ideal world, having Congress craft a net neutrality law makes sense -- especially since it would end the game of partisan patty cake that occurs every time a new administration takes office, potentially ending fifteen years of net neutrality debate. The problem, as we've noted several times, is that we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where Congress is bogged down in immense partisan dysfunction, and companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have immense control over both federal and state-level lawmakers.
Their control is so complete, they're often the ones writing awful, anti-competition, protectionist state and federal telecom law. There's a reason AT&T wants to gut the existing, popular rules and replace it with a new law: it knows it will be the one writing it. As such, you can be certain the law -- assuming it got passed at all (not at all likely) would be filled with so many loopholes as to be utterly useless. Despite this grotesque corruption and dysfunction being fairly apparent to anybody with eyes, many reporters have bought into this argument for a new law.
Fortunately a few reporters have been able to see through AT&T's bullshit on this front:
This is all cleverly worded bullshit from people who actually want to dismantle a responsive regulatory agency and cede responsibility back to Congress, which is much slower to act and, where the ISPs are concerned, can be easily bought. All of these ISPs continue to say they love net neutrality with fingers crossed behind their backs.
Make no mistake: AT&T doesn't care about healthy internet competition, level playing fields, or consumer welfare. Its goal is to gut all meaningful oversight of one of the least liked, and least competitive industries in America, and replace it with the policy equivalent of fluff and nonsense. And while there's still many folks that somehow believe that blindly deregulating companies like Comcast will magically result in good ISP behavior and telecom utopia, history has shown us time and time again that logic only tends to make the problem worse.
There's a far simpler way to settle the issue and protect consumers and startups, and that's to leave the existing net neutrality rules alone.