AT&T on Wednesday called for the United States Congress to draft an “Internet Bill of Rights,” with its appeal being signed by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson and appearing in some major newspapers across the country, in addition to the company’s own website. The Dallas, Texas-based wireless carrier also vowed to continue adhering to the principles of the open Internet, claiming it’s already been doing so for over a decade but that its own pledge isn’t enough to guarantee the future of net neutrality. Besides consumer rights, federal regulation of the matter would ensure a smooth transition to the next generations of products and services that will require even faster access to the World Wide Web, Mr. Stephenson argued. Remote surgery and autonomous vehicles were specifically named by the executive as some upcoming technologies that will need a cutting-edge Internet connection that won’t be guaranteed across the industry if Washington doesn’t put “predictable rules” in place.
As part of the same communication, AT&T’s head explicitly said the wireless carrier doesn’t block websites or discriminates against domains by throttling them “based on content.” The wording implies the telecom giant isn’t opposing the idea of paid prioritization, a much more realistic consequence of the net neutrality repeal than separate Internet bundles that would allow consumers to avoid having their access to certain domains throttled based on how much they’re paying. While such development is unlikely in the near term, net neutrality proponents have long pointed to the possibility that Internet service providers will start forcing companies to pay them in order to not have their websites and services throttled when consumers try accessing them. Such activities would not fall under content-based discrimination AT&T vowed to avoid but still have the potential to prevent smaller businesses from remaining competitive in the digital age, ultimately limiting consumer choice.
The FCC voted to repeal the Title II protections in mid-December but its move has yet to be put into practice and has already been challenged in multiple courts throughout the United States. Montana on Tuesday became the first state to officially oppose the decision with an executive order signed by its Governor which prevents net neutrality violators from being eligible for government contracts.