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It’s Friday, it’s Pai-day: we look at how US net neutrality push-back has proceeded this week


via Flickr © hyku (CC BY 2.0)

  • State Governors (two of them) come out fighting
  • AT&T has damascene conversion: is now in favour of net neutrality
  • CEO Randall Stephenson has been drafting an Internet Bill of Rights (sic)

Last week it was the states’ Attorneys General that were advancing the cause (see - Net Neutrality update: Legalistic moves in Washington, no movement in Europe); this week it appears to be States’ Governors who are thinking up ways to push back against the repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality arrangements initiated late last year by its Trumpist Chairman, Ajit Pai.

The governors may be onto something... a penalty that hits the big ISPs right where it really hurts - on their bottom lines. In the state of Montana the governor, Steve Bullock, has declared through an executive order that any internet service provider with a state government contract cannot block or charge more for faster data delivery to ‘any‘ customer in the state.  The requirement will relate to both landline and mobile broadband providers who hold government contracts in the state and who apply to win new or renewed contracts signed after July 1, 2018.

This is the first time this has been tried and will almost certainly face legal challenges.

But already Montana is not alone. The New York governor Andrew Cuomo has been thinking along the same lines and has signed an executive order to the effect that no New York State government agency is allowed to do business with ISPs that don’t abide by net neutrality-based principles. This order covers government internet access only, such as schools, state offices and public internet access points, but stops short of trying to dictate how ISPs regulate internet connections in homes and businesses - that would be an open invitation to legal challenge.

It’s expected that more state governors could follow suit. But all this feverish activity is probably unnecessary because AT&T CEO, Randall Stephenson, has boldly stepped forward with a solution.  Don’t know why he didn’t mention it before.

Uncertainty is the killer

As far as the big telcos and cable companies are concerned, the worst legislative outcome on net neutrality is uncertainty which - it’s by now become clear - is what Pai has gifted them with a full net neutrality repeal rather than a more cautious ‘roll-back’. As it stands, left to time and an eventual Democratic Party majority and president, net neutrality will likely come back with a vengeance.

So, the thinking goes, it’s surely best to get ahead of that likely occurrence and advance a legislative fait accomplii to try and blunt attempts to introduce something ‘worse’ (or better, depending on your point of view).

Hence the spectacle of AT&T  calling for an "Internet bill of rights" that it proclaims will "protect consumers." AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says his company is now committed to an open internet and will work on a legislative solution to the net neutrality debate.

"We intend to work with Congress, other internet companies and consumer groups in the coming months to push for an 'Internet Bill of Rights' that permanently protects the open internet for all users and encourages continued investment for the next generation of internet innovation," the CEO stated. What’s even better, he might have added, he thinks  arch-rivals Google, Facebook, Apple and so on should abide by neutrality ‘protections’ as well.

The idea that, having expended millions over the years fighting net neutrality every step of the way, AT&T has just now offered its full support to the concept, is laughable. If there is to be an AT&T inspired Internet Bill of Rights, it won’t be consumers and internet users’ rights that will be protected. Such a document would be strewn with legal ‘trap doors and escape hatches’ and enough vagueness to ensure that the lawyers can find a way for AT&T, Verizon and the other big ISPs to act in a myriad of non-neutral ways when required. To expect anything else is beyond stupid.

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