AT&T offering free iPad for ridiculous FCC regulation analogies

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski may have implored stakeholders on Thursday not to riddle the broadband debate with "straw-man arguments," but that hasn't exactly stopped AT&T from offering a free iPad to whomever devises the best one.

The mini-contest, announced Friday, stems from comments made earlier in the day by S. Derek Turner, the research director at Free Press. Turner, a supporter of the FCC's new plan to apply to broadband providers a series of rules that already govern telephone companies, slammed AT&T for "spreading fear, doubt and uncertainty" about Genachowski's intentions

"The 'Internet' is not the wires that deliver the content and applications, but the content itself," Turner said in response to AT&T's claim that Genachowski wanted to regulate the Internet, not its providers. The FCC has since repeated it has no plan to take control of the Web.

But AT&T, not to be outdone, excoriated Turner in return for a comment they said was not too unlike the now-infamous "Internet is a series of tubes" remark. But they also, apparently, decided to have a little fun with it in the process.

"In any case, we here at AT&T are sponsoring a contest in honor of Mr. Turner," wrote AT&T's Hank Hultquist. "We’re looking for the best analogy to capture the spirit of nonsensical abstraction embodied in Turner’s effort to define networks out of the Internet.  For example, one might say 'a swimming pool is not the floor and walls of the structure, but simply the water in it.'  Or 'a cannoli is not the pastry tube, but simply the cream inside.'"

But buried at the bottom is the news gem: "The winner (as determined by a panel of professional spinmeisters) will receive an iPad, which may or may not include WiFi capability," Hultquist noted. "After all, according to Mr. Turner, connectivity is just not part of the Internet."

Hillicon Valley checked in with AT&T later Friday to double check that last claim. Conclusion: It's both part of the joke, and it's actually a contest prize.

Nevertheless, it's a far cry from Genachowski's plea for civility on Thursday. “The issues presented by the Comcast decision are a test of whether Washington can work—whether we can avoid straw-man arguments and the descent into hyperbole that too often substitute for genuine engagement,” he noted in a press release announcing his proposal.