AT&T on Net neutrality: He who controls the pipes controls the universe

AT&T issued its latest threat to those who would want fair Internet access for all: Not without our pipes, you won't

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Once upon a time, before I was banished to my present spinster state, Pammy stood in our bedroom and poured herself into a slinky little number -- then asked me if it made her look fat. Foolishly, I told her she looked fine, and she promptly kicked me out of our bedroom. It took several weeks, three paid medical experiments, and six pints' worth of blood money before I could afford a suitably expensive and shiny bauble, thus ending my exile on the guest futon.

Some might call this justified revenge. Others might call it unconscionable extortion. Right now, we have a similar question with the telecom industry’s response to President Obama’s hard line on Net neutrality.

Obama recently followed my sage advice and declared that the Internet should be a regulated utility so that everyone can have access to the same Web and all its sites without being blocked, overcharged, or otherwise metaphorically bent over by cable companies and infrastructure providers. Kudos, Mr. President, maybe I’ll vote for you after all.

The telecom crew on the other hand should be in prison in the unwanted company of one-eared cellmates named Turk or Bubba. Extortion is a crime.

Even before Obama dropped the White House hammer on the FCC, its chairman-cum-cable company lobbyist shill, Tom Wheeler, was arguing that the Net neutrality issue is “complicated” because utility-style regulation would be a disincentive to the poor telecom companies continuing to invest their hard-clawed cash in Internet infrastructure. Give the providers a little more time and leeway, and U.S. throughput speeds might someday be on a par with Mali's or New Guinea's. When they heard that, the telecom community collectively nodded their pointy heads (sort of like me at the sound of ice clinking in a scotch glass).

In other words, give us what we want or we’ll stop giving you what you want. [Cue maniacal Voldemort laughter.]

Most of us initially interpreted that line as a lame argument Wheeler and evildoers from Verizon, Comcast, and the rest would try to foist on an underinformed, suitably uncaring, and properly greased lawmaking body. However, they were serious. Unfortunately for them, this second-term president is listening to technology advisers with IQs higher than their shoe size and at least a shred of moral dignity.

AT&T threatens to take its pipes and go home

Thwarted from its original dastardly designs, our telecom community is immediately following through on its not-so-veiled threat. Case in point: Suddenly AT&T says it will “pause” its recent initiative to deploy gigabit pipes to a large number of U.S. metro areas. You can bet the others will follow suit, too.

AT&T ducked official press inquiries, even after I sent Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson a conciliatory cupcake made out of bathroom grout. But he dodged my calls, sticking his head out the door only long enough to lament that his company simply couldn’t -- couldn’t -- invest that kind of money in furthering the country's fiber future unless it “knew under what laws that infrastructure would be governed.” He sounds like he has a point, but it really means that unless AT&T gets to slurp up all the robber baron profits it wants, well, U.S. consumers can go sleep on the couch.

He further blathered that no matter what decision the FCC was duped, coerced, or bribed into making, the issue will be litigated for the next 20 years anyway, and AT&T is utterly broken up about it. Gee, we'd help American consumers, Internet innovators, and schools today, if it weren't for those darn lawyers from all the misguided opponents to the sociopathic business practices that are every American tycoon’s God-given right. Never fear, folks, we’ll put our lawyers in that fray, too, and you can bet they’ll have your best interests at heart, not AT&T’s. Fret not, good people. Then Stephenson disappeared back inside his office like a frightened hermit crab.

Did anyone keep the receipts?

What I don’t understand is why the telecom guys think they need to pick on us. After all, back when the Telecom Act of the gnarly Nineties arrived, the government spotted the telcos $200 billion (yeah, that’s a bowel-blocking “b”) through tax credits averaging $2,000 per subscriber. Supposedly, the credits were meant to go toward nationwide infrastructure upgrades. However, with no follow-up from Uncle Sam, the money surprisingly, inexplicably, and sickeningly melted away with nothing to show for it except a sudden spike in the mansion, yacht, and opiate sales.

It’s become an American corporate tradition: Put on a sad face and explain how your rampant greed has brought your given industry to the brink of failure. Odds are you’ll get a multi-hundred-billion-dollar cash bath with absolutely no accountability whatsoever. We’ve already done it for at least three other industries that only provided homes, savings, and transportation. That’s nothing. We’re talking about endangering our access to Kim Kardashian’s Twitter feed and free porn here. Go for it, guys, you’re golden.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.