AT&T's perversion of 'free speech' would let it control the Internet

The Constitution's framers must be rolling in their graves in this abuse of the First Amendment, which the Obama Administration is caving on

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Washington Post columnist Cecilia Kang described what's cooking in the backroom:

A source who has seen the draft rules said the FCC would view paid prioritization of content as "a negative thing," but the agency doesn't put the burden on a carrier to show that the activity is reasonable. That means the FCC wouldn't automatically presume violations of Net neutrality when a company like Verizon Communications gives better delivery of online video from partner YouTube than, say, to Netflix or Hulu. On a case-by-case basis, the agency would take up investigations of alleged discrimination and apply its rule on "unreasonable" network management.

The problem with a case-by-case approach is that it doesn't establish a clear line and so opens the door for years of litigation about every single instance of alleged misconduct by carriers.

Genachowski knows better. In a speech earlier this month, he said, "Broadband providers have natural business incentives to leverage their position as gatekeepers to the Internet. The record in the proceeding we've run over the past year, as well as history, shows that there are real risks to the Internet's continued freedom and openness."

How much clearer could it be? "He's caving in to pressure," says attorney Witteman. "Few people realize that AT&T and Comcast filed comments with the FCC saying they have First Amendment rights. And that means they have the right to throttle traffic. It's similar to what the cable companies have done."

It would be one thing to tolerate authoritarian behavior by access providers if consumers, both residential and commercial, had lots of choice -- but we don't. In most parts of the country, there are generally only two choices: a cable company and a telephone company.

The FCC also will allow companies to experiment with "special services" like medical services or home security that could be given priority over other traffic. While those exceptions might be reasonable, they could also become a foot in the door for carriers that want to favor their own content over that of the competition.

Mobile users will be completely at the carriers' stingy mercy
I'm sorry to present a laundry list of sins, but there are so many problems with what Genachowski wants to do, and it's even worse for mobile broadband. The big carriers don't want the FCC to regulate wireless services, including mobile broadband, and it appears that the proposed rules are filled with loopholes favoring them.

Genachowski says he will allow for flexibility in the application of rules to wireless services but will "address anticompetitive or anticonsumer behavior as appropriate." Baloney -- addressing issues "as appropriate" isn't close to a serious regulatory posture.

While it's true that there is competition in the wireless market, the major players all act as if there isn't -- which is why regulation is so badly needed. For example, all the major carriers lock their phones to keep subscribers from bringing them to a new provider, something you don't find in Europe, and nearly all charge high early termination fees to keep subscribers from jumping ship. Simply put, those are anticompetitive practices. But it looks like the FCC won't be stopping them, much less focusing on the quality of service, or more aptly, the lack of quality we've all experienced.

There you have it. The Internet is in serious danger, and our supposed watchdog is looking more like a lapdog every day. Maybe Genachowski will surprise us and stand up for principle, but I'm not betting on it.

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This article, "AT&T's perversion of free speech to control the Internet," was originally published by Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at


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