AT&T Chief Exec Calls for Creation of an Internet Bill of Rights

AT&T, one of the winners in the recent end of net neutrality rules, is clarifying its stance. In an open letter that was published nationwide, including in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, chief executive Randall Stephenson called on Congress to establish an Internet Bill of Rights that would apply to all Internet companies and guarantee “neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all Internet users.”

WSJ reports that, “on one level, AT&T’s suggestion that it would accept including neutrality language in new legislation appeared to be an effort to play defense against attacks over the rollback of the rules.” Several state attorneys general have vowed to go to court over net neutrality, as have several activist groups.

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On the other hand, “AT&T’s new proposal — particularly its suggestion for new consumer-privacy standards that Silicon Valley has resisted — also represents a new escalation of the growing policy and political battles between the providers and the Internet companies.”

According to WSJ, “AT&T’s new move could even strengthen the outlook for what has been an elusive deal over how the government should regulate the entire Internet economy, if the Internet providers put real weight behind the effort.” But, it adds, “prospects for a global deal appear dim,” and also notes that, “Internet companies such as Google long benefited from relatively lenient government rules aimed at letting the online economy grow,” and that these same companies “have been successful in staving off regulations they oppose in areas like privacy.”

Stephenson’s letter promised not to block, censor or throttle online content. But he didn’t rule out paid prioritization, by which AT&T could sign deals to speed up specific content.

The Verge reports that New York governor Andrew Cuomo “signed an executive order that would require Internet service providers with state contracts to abide by net neutrality rules, even though the FCC recently voted to repeal those rules.” Montana’s governor signed a similar order, but New York’s population could make that state a “battleground” over the issue. More specifically, under Cuomo’s order, “any service provider receiving or renewing a contract after March 1st in New York will be required to sign an agreement saying they will adhere to net neutrality principles.”

Although Verizon and AT&T have inked contracts with New York, the FCC did include a provision “blocking states from passing their own rules.” For that reason, New York and other states with “similar plans will likely face a legal challenge.” New York and the attorney generals of 22 other states filed a federal suit.