AT&T (NYSE: T) is calling on Congress for a national net neutrality law. The company wants rules that will ensure that online content will not be blocked or slowed down by telecom, cable, or Internet companies. AT&T chief executive Randall Stephenson proposed an “Internet Bill of Rights” in a series of full-page ads in major newspapers, including The Washington Post and the New York Times.
Net neutrality is the idea that Internet service providers can’t block or favor websites. Without net neutrality, Internet providers would have a motive to steer customers toward apps and services that may share a commercial relationship with the providers. With net neutrality, apps and services could compete freely without worrying about interference from ISPs.
AT&T wants a law that would govern Internet providers and tech companies alike. The ads say: “Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users.”
A new net neutrality law would end a fractious debate that has been raging for years. Democrats and Republicans have failed to produce a meaningful compromise on a national net neutrality law. The Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal its net neutrality rules in December. The decision is now being challenged in court and in Congress.
The Senate is expected to vote this year on legislation that would prevent the FCC vote from taking effect. However, the legislation is unlikely to make it past the Republican-led House or President Trump’s desk. Many states are also moving to pass their own net neutrality rules. The FCC has said it will take states to court if they try to circumvent its decision.
AT&T’s ad barely touched on whether providers should be allowed to speed up certain websites and services based on payments from tech companies, a particularly contentious point in the debate. Supporters say that paid prioritization could help create new business models that benefit consumers. Critics say paid prioritization could create an Internet fast lane for large businesses while potentially shutting out small businesses and start-ups.
AT&T demonstrated strong opposition to the net neutrality rules that were put in place in 2015 during the Obama Administration. Stephenson said his company supports net neutrality in principle.