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AT&T Says It Will Join Net Neutrality ‘Day of Action’ as Critics Pounce

Variety logo Variety 7/11/2017 Ted Johnson
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On Wednesday, thousands of websites, public interest groups, and internet companies are staging a “day of action” directed at protesting efforts to rollback the regulatory framework for the net neutrality rules.

Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix are among the internet giants planning to call attention to the fate of net neutrality, and on Tuesday AT&T said that it will join this online show of support. Some organizers of the “day of action” quickly pounced on AT&T’s announcement as a publicity stunt.

“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 Bob Quinn, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, in a company blog post. “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.”

The Republican-led FCC is currently taking public comment on a proposal to roll back the regulatory underpinnings for its current set of net neutrality rules, passed in 2015, which prohibit companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from blocking and throttling traffic, or from engaging in other discriminatory behavior.

Those major internet providers have vigorously opposed the FCC’s means of imposing the regulations — by reclassifying the internet as a “Title II” common carrier. The regulatory maneuver allowed the agency to establish the rules on a sounder legal footing.

But new FCC chairman Ajit Pai, long an opponent of Title II reclassification, launched a proceeding in May that asks whether the current approach should be rolled back. That has ignited a new D.C. battle over net neutrality, for the third time in the past eight years.

Quinn wrote in his blog post that AT&T continues to oppose the Title II reclassification. “Saddling modern broadband infrastructure and investment decisions with heavy-handed, outdated telephone regulations creates an environment of market uncertainty that does little to advance internet openness,” he wrote. “Instead, it jeopardizes the prospects for continued innovation and robust growth we have witnessed since the internet’s creation.”

He called for Congress to come up with a set of net neutrality rules via bipartisan legislation. “Instead of having this debate again, Congress should act now to provide the clear statutory authority that guarantees an open internet for all consumers,” he wrote.

So far, the FCC has received more than 5.6 million comments on net neutrality, exceeding the record number of comments it received when it last considered the issue in 2014 and 2015. It’s unclear what the breakdown is in support or in opposition to the current action, but in the last proceeding, the comments were heavily in favor of the move toward stronger net neutrality rules.

AT&T said that its websites, channel guides, and apps will feature a banner “proclaiming our support for a free and open internet,” and they will encourage their customers and employees to file comments to the FCC and contact members of Congress to press for bipartisan legislation. They also prepared a video ad outlining its position.

Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, which is one of the groups leading the “day of action,” said via email that she found AT&T’s decision to join the campaign as “so ridiculous I’m laughing out loud.”

“AT&T and other companies like Comcast and Verizon have waged an all-out war on net neutrality protections, because they want to be able to charge internet users and startups extra fees, and squeeze all of us for more money for less internet,” she said.

“AT&T are lying when they say they support net neutrality, while actively opposing it. If they want to support the Title II protections that we have now, which prevent them from shaking down websites 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.”

Greer said that Snapchat, Airbnb, Spotify, Yelp, and Dropbox are among the recent websites to join the protest.

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