Whether you participated in this week's net neutrality protest or not, chances are high that you at least heard about it. You may have also heard that AT&T was joining the cause. In fact, if you are one of its customers you probably received a message saying as much. In a statement on its website, the telecom giant announced that it was going to join the Day of Action.
The protest was initiated to voice dissent against the FCC’s intention to roll back Title II, which regulates internet providers in part, by defining them as public utilities. This announcement came as quite a surprise to many as the telecom giant has shown a distaste for net neutrality rules in the past, even going so far as to file lawsuits against them. Even AT&T’s statement announcing its support indicated that it is aware of its reputation.
“[Participating in the Day of Action protest] may seem like an anomaly to many people who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free internet," Senior Executive Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs Bob Quinn said. He added, “We agree that no company should be allowed to block content or throttle the download speeds of content in a discriminatory manner.”
The company even sent out notifications to its customers that offered to send a pre-written message to their representatives and the FCC. The letters are randomly picked from several prepared responses each time the page is visited or refreshed. Some of the messages vaguely appear to support the purpose of yesterday’s protest. However, refresh enough times, and you will find wording that is clearly against the idea behind the Net Neutrality Day of Action.
Let's be clear: Agreeing with the FCC's current stance on Title II does not align with the purpose of the Day of Action protest.
One message example reads, “While the internet has drastically changed over the years, our internet regulations remain outdated. I agree with the FCC that it doesn’t make sense to apply an 80 year-old regulatory scheme to the internet.”
Another says, “I agree with the current FCC that the internet should not be regulated under a law created 80 years ago.”
These statements explicitly convey agreement with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal Title II, which is most definitely not what the protest was about. Most of the people honestly participating in the Day of Action want to see current regulations remain in place, not have them removed. So AT&T offering to send letters out in your name under the guise that they are joining the Day of Action is somewhat deceptive.
To AT&T’s credit, under the huge banner proclaiming its support for an open internet, Quinn does make it clear that the company is in favor of Pai's stance. And it was not the only one. Comcast and Verizon put up blog postings indicating they were behind the protest as well, while maintaining that they were opposed to the regulations in Title II. This just goes to show that you should always be aware of and read what a company is sending on your behalf.