AT&T lobbyist puts the boot into the US regulator

Sep 16, 2013

James Cicconi is responsible for AT&T's public policy organisation. In other words he is a lobbyist for the company. Before working for Ma Bell, Mr. Cicconi was a partner at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, L.L.P. and also served in the White House under Presidents George Bush Senior and Ronald Reagan. His political allegiance is clear.

Using his lunchtime speech as an "opportunity" to proffer some "advice" to the FCC's incoming chairman Tom Wheeler, Mr. Cicconi announced that the regulator is "a wired, analogue agency operating in a wireless, IP world", adding that it "only works with cognitive dissonance".

Complaining that it is "next to impossible" to get any meaningful comms legislation through Congress, Cicconi threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the new FCC chairman, tasking him with freeing-up the logjam or risk the increasing sidelining of the FCC.

The nub of the AT&T man's argument is that the FCC continues to live in a world where wireline remains the most important means of telephonic communication and under whose aegis monopolies can live out their long lives in peace and quiet. An ironic claim really given AT&T's market position.

Furthermore, says Jim Cicconi, the FCC is pretending the Internet is no more than a flash in the pan while wireless is a 'johnny-come-lately' niche technology of interest only to a few geeks and well-heeled consumers.

To support his thesis, Cicconi trotted out a welter of statistics, to support his argument. They ranged far and wide from Skype having some half a billion registered users and What’sApp, "a very popular over-the-top text messaging application, sending or receiving 27 billion texts in a single day".

Mr. Cicconi says that "In this situation, the FCC’s historic mission must be modernised to reflect the fundamental evolution in communications that IP technology and the Internet have wrought. If it doesn’t, the agency will become irrelevant."

And, as you might expect, Jim has his own ideas about how the FCC can maintain its relevance. It should, he says, "Stop picking winners and losers among companies, get out of the competition policy business, and remake itself". Thus the regulator must leave the enforcement of competition policy to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) cease and desist from "overtly picking winners and losers under the cover of competition policy".

Instead, says Jim, the FCC should focus on consumer protection and public safety, oversee universal service requirements, manage spectrum and leverage its level of technical expertise in the area of legacy technologies whilst, simultaneously "going against its nature" by allowing service providers and their ilk to "retire legacy technologies and services upon which its traditional regulatory authority is based." Yes, Mr. Cicconi is indeed asking the turkey to vote for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, without chance of a pardon for either

That said, Mr. Cicconi claims that AT&T does really not expect or even want to see the emergence of a completely free-for-all environment. "AT&T understands that we are not moving into a regulation-free zone. We get that," he said, adding, "But it would be just plain dumb to take regulations designed for a monopoly Bell System and try to apply them to modern, competitive Internet communications."

It's a caveat well made. AT&T might end up ruing the day if, as a result of lobbying for a completely free-booting competitive environment its legacy-monopoly backhaul provider practices were to be investigated by the DOJ and FTC.

AT&T's stance here is reminiscent of St. Augustine's prayer, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."

You see, in the end, we all want our Kate and Edith.

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