Technology

Despite seat at table, AT&T outed delicate net-neutrality talks

Seeking to weaken potential regulations, AT&T is actively working to complicate the Federal
Communications Commission’s (FCC) renewed effort to broker a compromise
on net neutrality.

Industry and Hill sources said that an AT&T official made public last week that the agency has quietly undertaken a new round of negotiation. The sources stressed that they had obtained this
information through AT&T channels.

The delicate FCC effort is aimed at resolving one of the most fractious issues in tech policy. The hope was to quietly consult with industry and public interest
stakeholders while insulating the negotiations from the noisy politicking the
question stirs on both sides.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski invited industry and public interest
sources to help shape a possible compromise, giving
AT&T a major seat at the table. Public advocates are concerned about how much Genachowski appears to be listening to AT&T, with one saying he has practically given them “veto powers.”

Ex parte filings show that
AT&T officials consulted frequently with the agency this month.
Policy executive Jim Cicconi met with Genachowski’s office the day
before the new net neutrality effort became public.

Politico first broke the story last Thursday that Genachowski had
begun a new attempt to propose net neutrality rules. The story created a
stir in the tech community as it followed months of FCC delay, with
some net neutrality backers presuming the effort dead.

AT&T outed the effort at a time when the political winds make
any kind of new regulatory effort very challenging. The members who
oversee telecom policy are in a heated race to prove their small
government, conservative credentials as they compete to lead the House
Energy and Commerce Committee.

Backlash was prompt after the story broke. Nineteen House
Republicans signed a letter urging Genachowski to back down, citing the news
reports about the effort. The candidates for committee chairman railed
against the potential proposal.

The calculation by AT&T may have been that heat from Republicans
might prompt Genachowski to abandon his plans or moderate the proposal.

Free Press President Josh Silver saw the move as manipulative. “There is no economic
or ethical justification for blocking net-neutrality rules, so AT&T
is playing dirty like they often do in Washington,” he said.

Cicconi said in September that when parties act “in good faith” it is “indeed possible to find a reasonable middle ground on the net-neutrality issue.” The remark came when Republicans shot down an AT&T-backed compromise brokered by House Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.).

The FCC declined to comment for this story. AT&T officials could not be reached on Thanksgiving.

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