FCC Gets Monkey’s Paw From Telco Front Group

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You might say it’s a sort of monkey’s paw that Hands Off the Internet, an AT&T-backed "grass roots" organization has called on the FCC to investigate Comcast for violating the four principles of Network Neutrality. On the surface, it looks like progress. But can it be trusted?

FCC Gets Monkey's Paw From Telco Front Group
FCC Gets Monkey’s Paw From Telco Front Group

It appears as good news. An anti-Net-Neutrality, pro-telecom organization calls for Net Neutrality enforcement. And if the telecoms demand something of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, you know it will be done.

FCC Gets Monkey's Paw From Telco Front Group

Must be all the birthday singing they do for him.

FCC Gets Monkey's Paw From Telco Front Group

After Comcast was busted blocking BitTorrent downloads, HOTI sent a letter to Martin asking the FCC to launch a full investigation to see if the four principles of Net Neutrality had been violated.

Just for review, those four principles are the same ones AT&T had to accept in order for their merger with Bell South to be approved, the same ones Martin himself said had no teeth. They are as follows:

1.    Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice;
2.    Consumers are entitled to run applications and services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement;
3.    Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network; and
4.    Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content             providers

The authors of the letter, Mike McCurry and Christopher Wolf, disagree with Martin’s initial assertion that the principles are unenforceable and believe the FCC "has clear authority" to do so.

What’s interesting about the letter is not just what is between the lines, but also how it plays on Martin’s philosophical inconsistencies. They use his own words to the Senate Commerce Committee against him to drive home just how extensive the FCC’s authority over Internet service providers is (or vice versa).

Another inconsistency to leverage: Martin’s reluctance to regulate or interfere with telecom giants, but full willingness to get his hands dirtied with cable providers. Before the keys were cold again on HOTI’s keyboard, Martin was dead set on stiffening regulations on the cable industry – most likely driven by his conscience, a la carte programming that provides true family friendly programming the trump to his deregulation mindset.

But what is most elegant about the HOTI letter is that it subtly mirrors a couple of very pro-telecom objectives: It puts additional heat on a very large competitor in the Internet and television space (the telecoms are beginning to offer TV); and it appears pro-Net Neutrality in an increasingly pro-Net Neutrality time without actually being so.

Smell that? It’s opportunism.

An FCC that appears to enforce the principles helps build a case that there is no legislation needed. In a perfect free market world, the FCC can hold its own, enforcing its own principles without Congress, even principles its own chairman said were unenforceable.

Just to save you following a link, let’s relive Martin’s words here:

Importantly, however, while the Democrat Commissioners may have extracted concessions from AT&T, they in no way bind future Commission action. Specifically, a minority of Commissioners cannot alter Commission precedent or bind future Commission decisions, policies, actions, or rules. 

The "concessions" are the same principles as listed above. Though a minority of Commissioners cannot bind Commission actions, perhaps AT&T-backed grass roots groups can. They’ve been pretty good at pulling Martin’s strings in the past.

If they can hurt a competitor while ensuring Net Neutrality remains unenforceable (while making others think that it is), then that fits squarely into a win-win corporate strategy.

" AT&T’s front group calling out Comcast is like Exxon calling out Texaco — they’re all bad faith actors with business models built on attacking competition in the marketplace and hurting consumers," says MoveOn.org’s Adam Green.

But what is equally disturbing, is the extent to which AT&T is involved in the workings of our federal government. Recently it was revealed that the secret room at AT&T HQ reserved for NSA personnel was used not only to snoop on phone calls, but all Internet traffic coming across the backbone as well.

If worded right, Net Neutrality legislation could put a stop to that, too. You know, if certain legislators don’t grant immunity to them in the meantime.

The dark conclusion, as usual lately: The government, including the FCC, the DOJ, the Administration, and a good portion of Congress don’t work for the people anymore. They work for shareholders and contributors.

And Kevin Martin? He’s made it very clear over the years whom he serves.   

FCC Gets Monkey’s Paw From Telco Front Group
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