AT&T’s CEO penned an open letter calling for net neutrality laws to cover both ISPs and web companies

But he hasn’t clarified AT&T’s stance on paid prioritization

AT&T has taken out a series of full-page ads in major newspapers including The New York Times and The Washington Post calling for a net neutrality law that would govern both ISPs and web companies like Facebook and Twitter. But web companies aren’t typically part of the net neutrality conversation because they don’t provide internet access, and the vague rules AT&T is proposing still seem to leave open the possibility for ISPs to sell paid fast lanes.

The open letter from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson states that an Internet Bill of Rights would help to “guarantee neutrality and transparency,” and that congressional action is needed to ensure consistent rules for all internet companies. “Legislation would not only ensure consumers’ rights are protected, but it would provide consistent rules of the road for all internet companies across all websites, content, devices and applications,” Stephenson wrote.

Even though AT&T says it supports aspects of net neutrality like not blocking or throttling certain websites, it’s still keeping quiet over paid prioritization and fast lanes. Paid prioritization means AT&T and other ISPs could charge a company like Google extra money to essentially get its content to consumers faster than the content of companies that are unable to pay and are relegated to “slow lanes.” While big ISPs might be in favor of a law that prohibits the outright blocking of websites, they’re a lot less likely to support one that bans paid prioritization — and without that, it’s not a real net neutrality law.

On top of all this, AT&T is also trying to conflate internet service providers with web companies — something that critics of net neutrality have done on a regular basis to argue against the rules. It suggests a net neutrality law should apply to web companies, too, because they also see and collect massive amounts of data. And while it’s true that rules are needed to govern this type of data collection and protect consumers, there’s a big distinction between how these different types of companies collect information on users: Facebook and Google can only see data that touches their sites and services, but ISPs like AT&T will see subscribers’ data no matter what since all internet traffic has to pass through them.

One critic called AT&T’s ads the “ultimate in hypocrisy.” In an emailed statement, Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law and Policy and a former FCC counselor, said, “Any ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ supported by AT&T will leave the FCC powerless, net neutrality and privacy protections weak, and consumers and competition left out in the cold.”

We’ve noted that Congress passing a law on net neutrality could, in theory, achieve the same goals and stop refractory debates surrounding neutrality. But ISPs are also powerful lobbyists that have directed millions of dollars to lawmakers. Net neutrality laws written by ISPs are also reportedly filled with loopholes. So these aren’t what true net neutrality activists want.

In December, the FCC approved a measure to kill net neutrality in a 3-2 vote. We’ve reached out to AT&T for further details about its stance on paid prioritization.

Source: The Verge

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