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AT&T channels -- the devil? -- in explaining why net neutrality debate is over the top

AT&T thinks supporters of net neutrality are crying wolf -- or Satanic light bulbs. Okay, bear with me, I'll explain.

It's pointing to extreme "what ifs" that could occur if the Federal Communications Commission doesn't create rules that would require companies like it to treat all traffic equally on the Web. But it says there aren't enough examples of wrongdoing to justify those fears. And the company wonders whether rules would justify what they describe to this point as mostly fears.

Companies such as Google and public interest groups disagree. They point to a handful of examples of discrimination by broadband service providers that advantage their businesses unfairly. And they say rules today would protect the growth of Internet applications. Google said in a recent filing to the FCC that AT&T blocked Slingplayer on its network even after the mobile video provider configured its application so that it wouldn't eat up too much bandwidth.

Back to Satan.

In a blog post today, AT&T's vice president of federal regulatory affairs, Hank Hultquist, compared those fears to a fear-mongering tactic decades ago used to drum up support for a weak cause.

Take a look at the odd, but headline-grabbing comparison:

In 1925, a young Californian claimed to have been told by the angel Gabriel that the world would end at midnight on February 13th. A number of people believed this prophecy including a Long Island housepainter named Robert Reidt who assembled a hillside gathering of believers to meet their fate. When midnight came and went uneventfully, Reidt rationalized that the angel must have meant Pacific time, and he exhorted the crowd to wait for three more hours. Three hours later he chalked up the continued non-occurrence of the extraordinary events to the “Satanic flashbulbs” of the reporters who had shown up.

At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what this strange story could possibly have to do with broadband policy. I had a bit of a déjà vu experience while reading some of the reply comments filed the other day in the open Internet proceeding, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what was going on. Then, while listening to Wednesday’s Open Internet workshop in Seattle, I remembered Reidt and his ridiculous attempts to explain the failure of the apocalyptic prophecy.

In AT&T’s reply comments, we pointed out similar failures on the part of the Internet’s own doomsday prophets, such as Larry Lessig and Tim Wu.

Here, I’d like to look more closely at just one of the predicted calamities that stubbornly refuses to occur – the imposition of “terminating access charges” on Internet application and content providers.

For years, advocates of extreme versions of net neutrality have been saying that without a complete ban on the sale of certain undefined service enhancements, ISPs will “someday just around the corner” impose the equivalent of “terminating access charges” on application and content providers. But as each day passes without any ISP perpetrating such a scheme, you might think these doomsday prophets would be forced to recant and accept the fact that ISPs have no unilateral power to impose uneconomic charges on non-customers. (Of course, this might change dramatically if the FCC classified Internet access under Title II with its long history of regulated interconnection, including mandatory termination charges.) Instead, they have taken a page from Reidt’s playbook.

Google points to recent “advances in router technology” as reasons why the end is nigh unless something is done. I guess this is the “Pacific time” approach to explaining how it is that billions of packets continue to be exchanged without the imposition of terminating access charges. Google’s as sure as ever that the apocalypse is almost upon us. It just has to wait for the next generation of routers. Yeah, right.

At Wednesday’s workshop, a Yahoo executive speculated that perhaps the reason why ISPs haven’t engaged in this kind of “holdup” is because of the threat of regulation by the FCC. Far be it from me to compare the FCC to “Satanic flashbulbs,” but as with Reidt’s explanation, I’m not sure how it works for all the hillsides around the world where the sun continues to rise without the threat of regulation of enhanced network services.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 30, 2010; 12:49 PM ET
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As usual, Ms. Cecilia Kang pulls for her sponsor, Google, and attempts to mock the companies which Google opposes -- most especially when they are making good sense.

She also (as before) claims that Google's captive lobbying groups inside the Beltway are "public interest" groups, when in fact they are, for the most part, virtually owned and operated by Google. (The exception, the New America Foundation, actually IS owned and operated by Google. Google CEO Eric Schmidt is its Chairman, and gives it millions of Googlebucks every year.)

When will the Post get an ethical and unbiased technology reporter?

Posted by: LBrettGlass | April 30, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse


Who are YOU? Who pays you? What your motives to disparage advocacy of Net Neutrality?

Just asking, but not really. You act agenda driven. I'm calling you.

I have no water to carry for Ms. Kang, but your relentless derogation doesn't ring true.

Posted by: featheredge99 | April 30, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Brett Glass is a Wireless Internet Service Provider and a straight-up guy even if you don't agree with him. I don't think any interest group is paying him. Cecilia is straight-up too, I believe. The Google-sponsorship thing Brett references comes from Google ads that appear sometimes on the Post web site, I guess, so the connection is tenuous. In this column, however, more space is given to criticism of Google, so I think Brett should reconsider his charge of slant in this instance. In any brief column, there will likely be more text given to one side than the other. Look over several columns. If there is real bias I will back you up.

Posted by: ObamasGulfResponseIsMuchWorseThanKatrina | May 1, 2010 12:05 AM | Report abuse

Cecilia Kang's bias toward Google is so blatant that it is a running joke among some people in Internet policy circles. How will she manage to portray a Google lobbyists as being from a "public interest" group this time? Which Google lobbyist will she give free space in the paper with no criticism or analysis, while attacking those from its opponents (as above)? Her bias is so well known that she was chosen as a host when Julius Genachowski announced the proposed "network neutrality" regulations, which wrote Google completely out of the text of the FCC's prior "principles" -- regulating Google's rivals but not Google.

Don't take my word for it. Read backward in this blog; the bias will leap out at you.

As for who pays me: No one, right now. I'm a small, independent businessperson -- the operator of a small ISP (the world's first wireless ISP). I'm trying to grow the network out to more rural areas, so I'm even declining to draw a salary from the business. That's how dedicated I am to doing what Google would like to stop me from doing.

Posted by: LBrettGlass | May 1, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Most powerful ISP's also sell cable TV and or video & telephone services. How do you think they will like companies like Apple or Others selling TV through the internet (across their networks) A LA CARTE (which none of them have allowed in the past)

I would ask all sides whats WRONG with Net Neutrality. WHY do the people in favor of net neutrality need to prove possible damage....It seems like mom & apple pie that you dont want the people your renting bandwidth from to be able to decide how fast certain things run especially when it competes with services THEY LIKE TO SELL.

Heres what I think is WRONG with not having net neutrality is that nobody has the time or money to fight the big ISP's if they decide to play unfair. SO WHY would anyone allow them to be setup in this position. The answer is not in whats appropriate, but follow the money.... who has some of the biggest Lobbying money in town...Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Cox

Posted by: HTech | May 3, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: ObamasGulfResponseIsMuchWorseThanKatrina



I hope that person is on drugs, because without that excuse, heshe is just partisan blind.

But hey - it's easier than educating yourself on facts, so I understand.

Posted by: lquarton | May 4, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Wireless ISPs should also be wary of what is going on, you are not as safe as one may think. Back in 2002 when all this mess started the wired ISPs all thought that the government would protect them from changes in regulations. Boy were they wrong. A group of them even went to the FCC and meet with one of the commissioners and were told to bad it's a done deal you may as well give up.
You do realize that Comcast is investing in wireless internet. Will they be your competitor?
Comcast was also a company that refused to advertise ISPs on their cable system. Rumors also have it that at&t is not playing nice with Sprint when it comes to connection pricing from Sprint towers to the at&t wired network. Be careful who you support they may just be the wolf.

Posted by: rfceo | May 4, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

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