AT&T wins. Again.
You can almost smell the last hope of any tough network neutrality protections dying on the wind, as carrier lobbyists work tirelessly to derail such efforts, the principles of companies like Google begin to buckle
under the promise of billions in wireless ad revenue, and the FCC and Congress get further mired in inaction and partisan bickering
While having to remain valiantly optimistic by nature of their profession, you can tell consumer advocates can certainly feel this sea change, groups like Free Press this week accusing FCC boss Julius Genachowski of "dragging his feet
," and waffling
on bold promises he made in a speech just one year ago. Public Knowledge's Art Brodsky explains why in a nutshell
The problem goes back to a month after that triumphant Brookings speech, when AT&T launched an all-out "shock and awe" campaign against Genachowski. Using its formidable grass roots organization and its more formidable financial stranglehold over members of Congress, AT&T convinced Genachowski and his team, most of whom had not been in Washington for long, that they would be crushed if they attempted Net Neutrality rules. The FCC has been nearly paralyzed ever since.
For his part, Genachowski tells the BBC
at least the companies involved know he's dedicated to network neutrality:
"There is no question in the minds of the companies in this space that we are committed to preserving a free and open internet. . . "The internet is open now. The companies that are providing internet services understand that the internet is open, should be open and that there will be repercussions if they take steps to close the internet.
Except if the companies involved in neutrality violations are busy lobbying to craft the rules, there won't
be repercussions -- because the rules either won't get passed, or they'll be chock full of the kind of giant loopholes we've already seen in the Verizon and Google proposal
. Of course the sector wouldn't need network neutrality rules if there was adequate competition, but that's something the Genachowski-led FCC made the decision not to pursue in any substantive fashion -- again in part for fear of upsetting AT&T
and other incumbent carriers.
Forgetting Comcast and Verizon for a moment, AT&T alone has one of the most powerful lobbying operations in any industry, in any country
, and an ocean of fauxcademics, astroturfers, think tankers, and hired PR agents all waging war constantly against consumer protections of any kind
. This is a company that was able to have the laws changed and gain immunity for their actions
when it was found they were illegally wiretapping American citizens. That they were able to bully the FCC and derail neutrality protections should surprise no-one.
There is no question in the minds of the companies in this space that we are committed to preserving a free and open internet.
-FCC Boss Julius Genachowski
To be clear: we probably will still see some kind of neutrality rules passed, but with companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast dictating what's in them, companies like Google and Skype
waffling on their principles to make a buck, and a timid regulatory authority -- the restrictions are going to be weak and meaningless
with a cheap facade of consumer protection.
Genachowski obviously doesn't deserve all the blame; his inaction is only a symptom of a systemic disease that goes right to the bone of U.S. politics and telecom policy. As I've argued for years
, we simply will not be able to fix the broadband sector (or any sector for that matter) until we collectively force government to address undue corporate influence on the political process - however chicken-and-egg such a scenario may be.
AT&T began the network neutrality debate in 2005 by insisting they were going to play Internet bridge troll
and impose extra tolls on companies and consumers that already pay for bandwidth. Five years later they've successfully used their immense power in DC to ensure nobody can stop this from happening.