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AT&T tricks customers into opposing net neutrality

AT&T net neutrality

It’s rare that anything a major telecoms company does to screw over its customers can surprise me any more, but AT&T’s latest move is a particularly stinky brand of skeezeball.

During yesterday’s international day of internet protest in support of strong net neutrality rules, AT&T sent customers texts, emails, and even direct messages on the cable TV boxes, The Verge reports. The messages all claim AT&T is in support of strong net neutrality rules — which AT&T’s actions prove that it’s not — and encourage AT&T customers to sign their name to a letter supporting the abolition of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

All the major telecoms companies spent all day yesterday playing damage control in the most Trumpian way possible: lies, half-truths, and paid ads with some really bare-faced spin. Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T all took the same line: they LOVE net neutrality so much, but they think it should be regulated by an act of Congress, not the FCC’s current rules.

In some ways, they’re not wrong. In a perfect world, a law would be the best way to regulate the telecoms industry. But there’s three huge problems with that: firstly, lawmakers have literally no idea whatsoever what net neutrality is, let alone how to enforce it; the telecoms lobby has spent half a billion dollars to gain huge influence in Congress, and it would basically write the bill for lawmakers; and at the current speed, it would be years until net neutrality laws were passed at all, which would give telecoms companies years of completely unfettered access to abuse customers and ruin the internet beyond repair.

In a lot of ways, AT&T’s actions yesterday prove exactly why we need a strong and robust FCC to regulate the telecoms industry. Yesterday, it proved that it is quite happy to abuse the access it has to customers and their devices in order to push a false narrative down their throats.

But that’s just what it’s willing to do while it’s still under the regulatory thumb of the FCC, no matter how spineless the current chairman is. Imagine if effective regulatory control was taken away from the FCC (exactly what telcos want to do) and instead enshrined in an act of Congress co-written by the telecoms industry, and overseen by a lawmaking body that can barely even keep the federal government’s lights on.

AT&T’s message yesterday was that it doesn’t need to be regulated by the FCC: it cares about net neutrality just as much as you do. But the shady tricks it pulled — combined with the last decade it’s spent campaigning against net neutrality — just proves that the money is nowhere near the mouth.