You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger enemy of consumer safeguards than the fine folks at AT&T. The company has a history of all manner of anti-competitive behavior, from making its bills harder to understand to help scammers rip off its customers, to routinely ripping off programs designed to help everyone from the hearing impaired to the poor. AT&T also, of course, played a starring role in killing both the FCC’s 2010 and 2015 net neutrality rules, and pretty much all meaningful state and federal efforts to protect broadband and wireless user privacy as it builds a creepy new ad empire.
Yet like clockwork, company executives like to pretend that despite this, they really love net neutrality, privacy, and healthy regulatory oversight. Case in point: with the courts refusing to hear an appeal of the FCC’s hugely unpopular net neutrality repeal, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson again piped up to insist his company really supports a federal net neutrality law:
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on the need for clear rules on #NetNeutrality and more: Congress needs to step up and write rules that aren’t left for interpretation by bureaucrats @cnbc @SquawkCNBC
— Julia Boorstin (@JBoorstin) February 7, 2020
This has been Stephenson’s shtick for a while now. His company will lobby relentlessly to crush any state or federal rules governing his company, after which he’ll insist it’s time for new… uh… federal rules. It’s something he’s repeatedly parroted to an entirely unskeptical press for a few years now:
“AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson joked Monday that Washington may not agree “on the freezing temperature of water,” but he called on a divided Congress to come together pass net neutrality and privacy legislation. The executive called for legislative clarity around the issue of broadband Internet access, saying certain basic principles should be codified into law.”
Most of the proxy organizations AT&T finances can also routinely be found making the same claim in various op-eds around the internet:
“Now is the right time to compromise on a bipartisan bill that guarantees no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization – the core net neutrality principles. Bipartisan rules are how we arrived at the beloved internet of our time. The ecosystem flourished under the same light-touch rules during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Rather than attempting to resuscitate failed policy pushes, what the American people need is a genuine effort to move the ball forward.
But tough federal net neutrality rules is not what AT&T is pushing for here. AT&T had every opportunity to support tough federal and state rules, and instead has tried to undermine such efforts at every conceivable opportunity. What AT&T and its numerous proxy supporters are actually pushing for is flimsy net neutrality and privacy laws that the company’s lawyers write. Laws so filled with loopholes that they’re effectively useless when it comes to reining in AT&T’s worst impulses, but are designed to do one real thing: pre-empt tougher, better, consensus driven state and federal solutions.
What AT&T wants is little to no meaningful oversight of its historically predatory business behaviors. What AT&T wants is a bogus law that gives the illusion of putting these hot button issues of the day (net neutrality, privacy) to bed, but in reality green lights and legalizes all of the company’s worst impulses.
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