AT&T was just about to offer all manner of amazing, innovative services, but then net neutrality happened. At least that’s the gist of a speech recently given by AT&T Senior VP Bob Quinn at the Phoenix Center’s Annual US Telecoms Symposium. According to Quinn, net neutrality has created enough “legal uncertainty” that it caused the telco to shelve a “bunch of stuff.” Quinn also proclaimed that the FCC’s rules has the telco stuck in a sort of regulatory quagmire, where fifteen AT&T lawyers have to sit around debating what is and what isn’t allowed by the nation’s net neutrality protections:
“Since the Open Internet order came out we’ve had weekly calls with the business units and literally 15 lawyers who are all trying to figure out whether that stuff we’ve invested in … would be a violation of the order,” he said. “We’ve had to shelve a bunch of stuff because we’ve got to wait and see.”
Right. Except that’s absolute bullshit. We’ve noted time and time again that while the new net neutrality rules thankfully prohibit the most heavy-handed of behaviors (outright site blocking or throttling), the rules are actually generous to a fault when it comes to allowing all manner of “creative” pricing. That’s especially been true when it comes to usage caps and “zero rating,” which together let companies trample all over the idea of an open Internet — provided they’re just clever about it.
AT&T, for example, has had no problem offering its “Sponsored Data” service, which lets companies pay a premium to have their content not count against user wireless data usage allotments. Despite the fact this dramatically tilts the playing field in the favor of larger, wealthier companies (by letting them buy their way to a preferred status), the FCC has yet to bat an eyelash at the practice. The rules even go so far as to insist that such models may “benefit edge providers (content companies) by helping them distinguish themselves in the marketplace and tailor their services to consumer demands.”
And while it’s possible the FCC is waiting on the industry’s lawsuit against the rules to be settled before taking action, the fact it has publicly applauded such models suggests that’s not likely. T-Mobile, for example, has been lauded by the FCC for its “Binge On” and Music Freedom” services, which exempt the nation’s biggest music and video services from the company’s usage caps. In fact, the FCC boss went so far as to call these services “innovative” and “pro competition” despite the dangerous precedent at play (again, small independents not being whitelisted alongside by default).
Hell, the FCC has even sat on its hands as Comcast offers a streaming video service that doesn’t count against the company’s ever-expanding usage caps, which is generally seen as the worst net neutrality tap dance we’ve seen so far.
So yeah, as it stands now there’s nothing the FCC hasn’t allowed. Sounds horribly oppressive, doesn’t it? And Quinn can’t be bothered to cite a single example of…