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This is a familiar time of year for TV fans. It’s the end of the season for original programs and the start of summer reruns for many. Some shows are better the second time around, but some lose their punch, or should, if you see them again and again.
For the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), this summer’s big rerun is being brought to you by AT&T, which first broadcast its blockbuster “shock and awe” show last fall. Now AT&T is doing it again. While the FCC may have been spooked by this exercise in intimidation the first time around, there’s no excuse for the Commission panicking, screaming, or getting weak in the knees again.
Last September, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a fine speech at the Brookings Institution in which he announced the Commission would move forward with a rulemaking on Net Neutrality – four existing principles and two new ones to make sure consumers were protected from the telephone and cable companies changing the Internet from one where the consumers determine what and how they see online content to one where the companies set priorities for consumers.
In response, the telecommunications industry, led by AT&T, decided to show the new FCC who was the old boss. They unleashed an unprecedented “shock and awe” campaign dedicated to making certain the FCC backed down before it ever got started. To some degree, it worked, particularly when AT&T got 72 Democrats to sign a letter containing the traditional threats and bullying. The FCC should carefully consider the “full range of potential consequences” on network investment that would result from Net Neutrality, was how the threat read. The FCC chairman was new, his chief of staff was new and many people at the Commission hadn’t seen the dramatic lobbying power of the telecommunications industry.
As a result, between the month that Genachowski announced his intention to have the FCC propose rules and the meeting at which the action took place, the FCC caved on some issues dealing with a neutral, non-discriminatory Internet on which they should not have. The FCC was worried about investment and Wall Street, when it really shouldn’t have been. AT&T lobbyists crowed at their victory.
Fast forward seven months, now the present. Genachowski has once again announced his intention to move forward on a controversial path. In this case, it is to fix the mistakes of the past, which would hamper the future of broadband in this country. As a result of the April 6 decision of the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit, the FCC found itself with little or no legal authority over broadband, the fundamental building block for a new economy. Much of the National Broadband Plan would be in jeopardy without some response from the FCC.
Genachowski, after much deliberation decided to propose a Third Way to deal with the broadband vacuum. Rather than leave it to a non-existent free market, with no protections for consumers, and rather than subject broadband to the full authority of the Communications Act, Genachowski decided to bring the connection between an Internet user’s house and the Internet back under FCC’s traditional jurisdiction.
With this simple action, the FCC could move forward to guarantee broadband support for rural areas, stabilize the investment climate, help set some rules of the road for the Internet and make sure that a private company can’t impose its will on the Internet experience of its customers.
Well, wouldn’t you know that the telecom industry didn’t see the reasonableness of Genachowski’s proposals, which will be considered at the June 17 FCC meeting. Hence, the rerun.
AT&T is once again swarming all over Capitol Hill getting their pet members of Congress to sign yet another disingenuous letter. This one is sponsored by Rep. Gene Green (D-ATT).
This time, AT&T is claiming that consumer protection, Universal Service and other items the government needs to do to help people are simply a “distraction.” Once again, they threaten the future of investment if the FCC goes forward. The investment issue was so important, the mentioned it twice to make sure the message got through, to frighten Genachowski once again.
So far, AT&T is gaining signatories of members of Congress willing to betray their constituencies and ignore the falsehoods. The investment/jobs argument is particularly cynical. AT&T and Verizon have cut tens of thousands of jobs over the past couple of years in which the regulatory climate has been most favorable to them. Verizon has stopped its fiber build out, not because of any regulation, but because it wanted to.
Fred Wilson, one of our country’s premier venture capitalists, supports the FCC. He's in the hottest creative market in the country now, and knows the score.
So why are the members of Congress signing onto this misleading letter, and why is the FCC quaking in its boots again? Look at all the pressure money can buy. AT&T spent $5.9 million in lobbying in the first quarter of this year. That’s almost double from the fourth quarter last year. Verizon spent $4.7 million in the first quarter this year on lobbying. That’s up from $3.2 million in the fourth quarter.
And big, bad Google? They spent a little more than $1 million. Do the math, and don’t wonder why it is all those members of Congress are signing onto nonsensical letters. Want some more math? Look at the top Political Action Committee. It belongs to AT&T. There’s a reason AT&T splits its dough between the parties – so they can buy Democrats who will abandon their constituents and the Obama Administration’s forward-looking tech policies.
Message to the FCC: You have seen this before and you know the score. It doesn’t matter how many Democrats sign these put-up letters. You are doing the right thing. Stay strong. This rerun is as meaningless now as it was during the first showing.