Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T want Congress to make a net neutrality law because they will write it

Companies and organizations that rely on an open internet rallied on Wednesday for a “day of action” on net neutrality, and America’s biggest internet service providers have responded with arrogance and contempt for their customers. Comcast’s David Cohen called arguments in favor of FCC regulation “scare tactics” and “hysteria.” Beyond the dismissive rhetoric, ISPs are coincidentally united today in calling for Congress to act — and that’s because they’ve paid handsomely to control what Congress does.

There’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, and that’s taking money from ISPs. The telecommunications industry was the most powerful lobbying force of the 20th century, and that power endures. It’s no secret that lobbyists in Washington write many of the laws, and the telecom industry spends a lot of money to make sure lawmakers use them. We’ve already seen net neutrality legislation written by the ISPs, and it’s filled with loopholes. It’s not just in Congress — companies like AT&T have deep influence over local and state broadband laws, and write those policies, too.

Some pro-net neutrality advocates are also arguing today that Congress should act, and there are some good reasons for that. Laws can be stickier than the judgements of regulatory agencies, and if you want to make net neutrality the law of the land that’s a job for Congress. But there’s a reason the ISPs are all saying the same thing, and it’s because they’re very confident they will defeat the interests of consumers and constituents. They’ve already done it this year under the Republican-controlled government.

Take the recent ISP victory in Congress to destroy a 2016 FCC broadband privacy rule that would have prevented them from selling the personal information of their customers without their permission. Who on Earth wanted to give ISPs this kind of power? What customer out there with just one or two choices about where to buy internet access wanted this? The ISPs are the only ones who wanted this, and they managed to get members of Congress to do something that was so clearly against the best interests of their constituents and American consumers that it boggles the mind. The ISPs have even more power in Congress than they have within an FCC that is now led by a man who used to be a lawyer for Verizon.

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ISPs have tried for years to gut the FCC with Congress’ help, because the FCC has been given the authority to regulate them. Regulation, of course, is an annoyance to sprawling businesses that would prefer to squeeze customers they have imprisoned by dividing up the market and giving them few to no choices. They want to regulate themselves, and Congress has the power to let them do it. Their argument for rolling back the FCC privacy rules was essentially “trust us because we have privacy policies.” That sounds a lot like FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s call to let ISPs self-regulate on net neutrality by putting open internet provisions within their terms of service agreements. Only people who get paid by ISPs or who used to get paid by ISPs would call this “regulation.” Just go ask the average disaffected Comcast or Verizon customer if they trust their ISP to have their best interests in mind.

Here’s what ISP giants said today.

Verizon:

Today, some companies and organizations are taking part in a “Day of Action” on net neutrality. We respect that and applaud their passion. But for more than a decade this issue has been characterized primarily by slogans and rhetoric, and this has not led to protection of the open Internet on a permanent and predictable basis. So we respectfully suggest that real action will involve people coming together to urge Congress to pass net neutrality legislation once and for all.

Comcast:

You can have strong and enforceable Open Internet protections without relying on rigid, innovation-killing utility regulation that was developed in the 1930s (Title II). While some seem to want to create hysteria that the Internet as we know it will disappear if their preferred regulatory scheme isn’t in place, that’s just not reality.

[…] ultimately, we believe the best way to end the game of regulatory ping pong that has been played in the net neutrality space for the past decade, would be for Congress to act and give clear legal authority and legislative direction.

AT&T:

The debate around an open internet has been going on for nearly 15 years. In the end, the issue is never really about what the rules should be or whether we should have an open internet. Rather, the debate focuses on whether open internet rules should derive from the 80-year-old Communications Act or some other theory of Congressional authority because the current law predates the internet. Instead of having this debate again, Congress should act now to provide the clear statutory authority that guarantees an open internet for all consumers.

This is all cleverly worded bullshit from people who actually want to dismantle a responsive regulatory agency and cede responsibility back to Congress, which is much slower to act and, where the ISPs are concerned, can be easily bought. All of these ISPs continue to say they love net neutrality with fingers crossed behind their backs.

AT&T hilariously said it has joined the day of action, which is like a wolf attending a sheep’s rights rally. Verizon says “it’s in all of our interests to ensure that consumers can access the legal content of their choice when and how they want,” neglecting to mention Verizon’s interest in making sure they pay as much as possible to do it. Comcast says it supports “permanent, strong, legally enforceable net neutrality rules,” which it will continue to say until 2018 when its involuntary requirement to support those rules as a condition of its NBCUniversal merger expires. Meanwhile, the ISPs are barreling forward with schemes like zero-rating and sponsored data that are completely incompatible with open-internet principles.

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The key line from the ISPs is that somehow Congress acting will create predictability in regulation that has been long absent. The truth of that statement conceals a lie. Yes, the regulatory environment has been “unpredictable,” because the ISPs themselves have made it that way. Verizon says “it’s time to get past the pendulum swings and work together to craft a durable set of rules,” while neglecting to mention the reason the rules haven’t been durable is the fact that Verizon has tried to sue them out of existence for more than a decade.

Verizon concluded its blog post today by saying “open internet protections deserve to be written in ink, not pencil.” Guess who will be holding the pen?

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