“Stay Woke”: AT&T Under Fire for “Co-opting” Internet Protests – Vanity Fair
AT&T wouldn’t be the first company to find itself on the wrong side of the Internet outrage machine for hijacking a protest bandwagon, but even in the annals of corporate hypocrisy, the telecom’s move to present itself as a defender of net neutrality is notable for its chutzpah. AT&T is a longtime opponent of the federal government’s 2015 net-neutrality rules, and once sued the Federal Communications Commission in a failed bid to get the agency to throw out its tougher rules. But that hasn’t stopped the company from throwing its weight behind Wednesday’s Day of Action, a day of online protest organized by non-profit group Fight for the Future to speak out in favor of existing government regulations protecting an open Internet. And activists aren’t impressed.
Unlike Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix, which have also signed on to the fight, AT&T would presumably benefit from Trump-appointed F.C.C. Chairman Ajit Pai’s plans to roll back the net-neutrality guidelines enacted by Tom Wheeler under the Obama administration, which is why it’s so odd to see the telecom firm come out at this precise moment to push back against rules that would allow Internet service providers to throttle traffic to particular Web sites. “AT&T are lying when they say they support net neutrality, while actively opposing it,” Fight for the Future Campaign Director Evan Greer told Ars Technica. “If they want to support the Title II protections that we have now, which prevent them from shaking down Web sites for extra fees as part of ‘paid prioritization’ schemes, we’d be glad to have them as part of this protest. Until then, they’re just making noise to continue their campaign of misinformation.”
Supporters of the telecom dispute that characterization. “This may seem like an anomaly to many people who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free Internet,” AT&T lobbyist Bob Quinn wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. “But that’s exactly the point—we all agree that an open Internet is critical for ensuring freedom of expression and a free flow of ideas and commerce in the United States and around the world.”
AT&T supports basic rules that prevent throttling Web sites, though Quinn’s post doesn’t state that the company would support banning paid prioritization—which would let companies like AT&T charge companies or Web sites for faster access to reach their customers, and which the bulk of the companies involved in Wednesday’s online protest are actively opposed to. In 2015, the F.C.C. used Title II authority to implement strict net-neutrality guidelines after AT&T sued to reverse the agency’s reclassification of broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Former AT&T C.E.O. Ed Whitacre has said that he would charge companies like Google extra to send data on AT&T’s broadband infrastructure. “Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?” he told Bloomberg in 2005. “The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment, and for a Google or Yahoo or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!”
“We support the principles that ensure an open Internet,” an AT&T spokesperson said when reached for comment. “It’s use of Title II that’s the issue.”
Last year, the F.C.C. investigated AT&T for violating net-neutrality rules by letting its customers watch streaming video from its DirecTV Now app, without penalizing them by having the streaming count toward their monthly data allowances. Pai dismissed the investigation.