AT&T Offers New Position on Net Neutrality

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AT&T Offers New Position on Net Neutrality

Grant Gross, IDG News Service
Dec 15, 2009 2:20 pm

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should back away from
creating strict nondiscrimination rules requiring broadband service
providers to carry all Internet content and applications, because such
net neutrality rules could hurt investment in networks, AT&T told the
FCC Tuesday.

AT&T, a longtime opponent of strong net neutrality rules, nevertheless
suggests in a letter to the FCC that "preserving the open character of
the Internet is critically important to ensuring that all consumers
have the opportunity to be creators of content and innovators from
their homes or their garages."

However, the FCC shouldn't prohibit broadband providers from entering
into commercial agreements in which they provide "value-added"
broadband services to some Internet companies, AT&T said.

And the agency should balance the open Internet principles with
policies that "preserve and expand incentives that drive the
substantial private investment necessary so that the promise of the
Internet is fully realized and maximally available," wrote James
Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and
legislative affairs.

The FCC in October voted to open a rulemaking process that would
create formal net neutrality rules. While AT&T's letter appears to be
a new approach for the company, some net neutrality supporters said
the letter doesn't outline a major change in the company's position.

In the letter, AT&T says the FCC would focus on "unreasonable and
anticompetitive" forms of Internet content discrimination, instead of
enforcing broad rules prohibiting discrimination against Web content
and applications, Cicconi wrote. "A strict nondiscrimination rule
could inadvertently limit the availability of creative and innovative
services that consumers may want to purchase," he added. "Worse still,
a strict nondiscrimination rule would completely ban voluntary
commercial agreements for the paid provision of certain value-added
broadband services."

Ben Scott, policy director at advocacy group Free Press, called the
AT&T proposal an attempt to "cajole a toothless" net neutrality rule
out of the FCC.

"After leading a rabid anti-net neutrality lobbying campaign for
years, AT&T now submits a letter to the Federal Communications
Commission purporting to offer common ground," Scott said in a
statement. "What they are proposing would allow them to violate the
core principle of Net Neutrality -- letting them control the Internet
by picking winners and losers in a pay-for-play scheme. That would
destroy the free and open Internet, and the FCC should reject this
false compromise out of hand."

Public Knowledge, another group supporting net neutrality rules, also
discounted the AT&T letter.

"AT&T has tried to draw what is an imaginary line among types of
discrimination," Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, said in a
statement. "The company advised the FCC that while 'unreasonable'
discrimination can be banned, any discrimination caused by 'voluntary
commercial agreements' is just fine because the parties involved
agreed to it. That is nonsense."

Those kinds of "side deals" between broadband providers and content
providers would take control of the Internet experience out of the
hands of consumers, Sohn added.

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