All hail AT&T! Champion of the open internet and users' privacy!
Also a bald-faced liar
And as politics has drilled through the gutter and into the sewers, so the cable industry has followed it.
"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," wrote SVP Bob Quinn. "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." He goes on:
We agree that no company should be allowed to block content or throttle the download speeds of content in a discriminatory manner. So, we are joining this effort because it's consistent with AT&T's proud history of championing our customers' right to an open internet and access to the internet content, applications and devices of their choosing.
There are two aspects of double-speak being pushed by the cable industry right now. One is the "open internet" or, more accurately, what those choose to define as the "open internet." And the second, more policywonkish, is that "Title II is not net neutrality."
The "open internet" is a purposefully vague term that sounds great and is impossible to oppose so long as it is never clearly defined. And so it won't be. You can't expect a lot of politicians to use the term after they are visited by cable lobbyists and after they secure hefty checks for their re-election campaigns.
If net neutrality activists have any sense, they will divert some of their seemingly endless energy into breaking down exactly what "open internet" means and does not mean. This is the sort of the policy work that the FCC was set up to do – so why not make it do it?
As for the second aspect of double-speak – "Title II is not net neutrality" – this is also a "clever" but purposefully misleading argument. Title II is the part of the law that currently applies to ISPs and which effectively makes them data utilities – the suppliers of data pipes and nothing else.
Water companies can't control everything in their pipes; telephone companies can't control everything over their lines; ISPs can't control everything going through their broadband.
Now, Title II is not in and of itself net neutrality, but it is the means by which the FCC can enforce net neutrality under the law. And the reason the FCC decided to apply Title II was because the cable industry itself kept challenging the FCC's legal right to apply rules that ensured net neutrality.
If you take away Title II, there is no net neutrality unless Congress comes up with a whole new law that accounts for the workings of the modern internet world. So while Title II is not net neutrality per se, it is necessary, right now, for net neutrality to exist.
Big Cable and some think tanks have started pushing on a solution beyond repealing the current Open Internet Order: get Congress to finally enact a new telecom law that recognizes the modern digital world. And the US needs one. The current net neutrality rules rely on 1934 legislation; the likely replacement stems from 1996. They are both horribly out of date.
More worryingly for cable companies is that the new FCC chair Ajit Pai is setting a dangerous precedent by attempting to simply throw out rules that were passed very recently rather than revise or update them. As such, the new FCC chair – who could be in place in just over three years following the 2020 presidential elections – could simply reverse things.
The problem however comes back, again, to the destructive, short-term, cynical and hyper-partisan culture that has taken hold in Washington.
As the efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act and so impact the healthcare of the entire nation have made plain, Congress is willing to put more effort into snubbing and beating the other side than it is into finding compromises that can get a majority of politicians on board.
As such, any legislative effort over telecommunications – and with it net neutrality – is likely to fall into the same quagmire and end up creating yet another untouchable topic along with the age-old polarizing topics that Colbert identified: abortion, taxes – he forgot to add guns.
But the one thing that the United States used to support and revere across the nation, regardless of political leanings, was a "straight shooter."
In the Land of the FreeTM, and free speech, everyone can respect what you say – so long as you actually believe it. And, even more so, so long as you stick with it.
And so when AT&T sends a letter [PDF] to the California Congress saying that its bill is not needed because a) the FCC and FTC already have the authority to act, and b) a federal set of rules is needed rather than a "patchwork of state internet privacy rules" – then everyone should feel free to condemn it.
Why? Because AT&T worked incessantly to undermine both the FCC and FTC's authority, and was behind the push that destroyed the federal privacy rules days before they were due to take effect. And because in its appeal [PDF] to the Ninth Circuit, based in California, it states as its second main argument: "AT&T is exempt from FTC enforcement even on an activity-based reading of the statute."
AT&T: Champion of the open internet. Privacy advocate. Bald-faced liar. ®