As expected, both AT&T and Verizon are very unhappy with the Federal Communications Commission after chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled a proposal to reclassify ISPs under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. AT&T in particular pined for the days when the FCC was run by more reasonable people such as Julius Genachowski, whom it praised for crafting a compromise net neutrality plan that all sides could live with.
“We continue to believe that a middle ground exists that will allow us to safeguard the open Internet without risk to needed investment and years of legal uncertainty,” writes AT&T senior executive VP Jim Cicconi on the company’s blog. “We were able to find such a path in 2010, and will do our very best to seek such a path today.”
There’s just one problem with this argument — it’s not as though the FCC decided out of nowhere to tear up its old agreement and start over. Instead it was forced to because AT&T’s fellow carrier Verizon decided it couldn’t live with such a compromise and successfully sued to overturn the rules.
This left the FCC with only two options: Either reclassify ISPs under Title II to give the commission proper authority to oversee their network management practices, or do nothing. Verizon was clearly banking on the FCC doing nothing since it figured reclassification would be a political landmine the FCC didn’t want to step on.
However, ISPs quickly found themselves losing the public relations battle when it came to net neutrality. Apparently, many people in the general public didn’t like the idea of giving ISPs carte blanche to do whatever they want. And it’s not just the average net user, either — a report from Bloomberg Businessweek last year indicated that big companies such as Ford, Visa and UPS were all telling the FCC that they’d rather have the commission go ahead with Title II than give ISPs the power to charge them more money to ensure their traffic gets delivered more quickly.
Elsewhere in his post, Cicconi tries to rewrite history by warning that “we also hope that proponents of Title II will consider that any FCC action taken on a partisan vote can be undone by a future commission in similar fashion.” While this is no doubt true, Cicconi omits the fact that the 2010 compromise that he supports passed on a party-line vote of 3 to 2, just as Wheeler’s plan likely will.
If AT&T really did like the FCC’s original plan that passed in 2010, it could have gone to bat for it and publicly called out Verizon for trying to get it overturned. Instead, it sat on its hands and remained silent because, like Verizon, it really hoped the FCC would respond to the court’s ruling by doing nothing.