AT&T has just revealed what it would take for it to change its stance on Net neutrality: regulators’ approval of its purchase of DirecTV.
The company has offered to accept the rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission early this year, according to reports that surfaced Wednesday.
It was just last month that the FCC denied petitions from a slew of companies — including AT&T — to delay its implementation of the rules. Now it appears that opposition may be dwindling — assuming that AT&T is able to seal the DirecTV deal.
However, there are still plenty of forces aligned against the FCC rules. Two groups saw their petitions rejected by the commission.
One was comprised of the U.S. Telecom Association, CTIA — The Wireless Association, AT&T, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and CenturyLink.
The other consisted of the American Cable Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Cogent Communications filed an opposition to the petitions.
“The Open Internet Order provides clear rules of the road that will ensure enforceable protections for consumers and innovators online, and it’s important that the commission implement them in a timely way,” FCC spokesperson Mark Wigfield told the E-Commerce Times.
The petitions were made earlier in May pending judicial review — the FCC is facing 12 lawsuits in the federal appeals courts over the order. It has not yet been decided which circuit will hear those appeals.
Both petitioners also asked the District of Columbia circuit appeals court to issue a stay of the FCC’s order.
The FCC’s Ruling
The FCC found, among other things, that the petitioners failed to demonstrate they were likely to succeed on the merits of their petition; that they would not suffer irreparable injury; that the alleged harms were insufficiently concrete; that their allegations about the harm of Section 222’s application to broadband Internet access service rested on faulty assumptions; and that the petitioners’ own statements and actions in other contexts contradicted their assertions of harm from application of the basic privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act.
The FCC also ruled the petitioners’ argument that they might face increased fees as a result of reclassification, and that new taxes and fees to be levied in the wake of the reclassification would cause irreparable harm, were not persuasive.
Further, it ruled the petitioners failed to demonstrate that third parties would not be harmed if the stay petitions were granted, and that the stay petitions were contrary to the public interest.
Neither the application of a just and reasonable standard, nor the adoption of a “no unreasonable interference” standard would harm investment, innovation or consumers, a fact supported by a decade of investment prior to reclassification, the FCC Order explains.
Petitioners already were subject to a case-by-case standard governing their conduct, as well as general legal standards, and they did not harm investment, innovation or consumers, the commission found.
Although AT&T now may have a compelling reason to look for wiggle room in the dispute, others likely are less flexible.
“We don’t believe this approach is the right one, and it’s not in keeping with the laws that are in question — and clearly a number of other organizations feel the same way, given the number of companies that signed on to challenge the case,” Verizon spokesperson Ed McFadden told the E-Commerce Times.
Pain in the Wallet
Corporations opposing the Open Internet Order contend that it will hamper investment.
The rules will curtail the deployment and expansion of communications networks, Telecommunications Industry Association CEO Scott Belcher warned.
The petitioners who had sought a stay “have a good argument for suffering harm from the Open Internet rules,” Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst with ITIF, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
In the long term, the common carrier rules “will be a damper on investment in the industry,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Whether or not that harm will be irreparable is another issue,” Brake said, “but the next big question is what a court thinks of the arguments.”
As for the FCC’s turning down the petitions, that’s all part of the procedural dance all parties have to go through, he pointed out.
“Before seeking a stay of the rules, the petitioners are required to first seek a stay with the commission,” Brake explained. “Their request and the FCC’s denial are really formalities before moving on to the courts.”
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