“In the last couple of years, the industry has worked and agreed to a framework for net neutrality. So the court order really changed nothing," CEO Randall Stephenson said during a conference call, according to Cnet.
Two weeks ago, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals granted Verizon's request to strike down the Federal Communications Commission's 2010 net neutrality rules. Those regulations prohibited all broadband providers from blocking lawful content and services, and prohibited wireline carrers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination. Now that the court has invalidated the rules, Internet service providers like AT&T can theoretically block Web sites, services or apps.
So far, no ISPs have said that they intend to outright censor content. But it wouldn't be surprising if some try to forge paid prioritization deals, where they would charge companies more to deliver their material faster. Broadband advocates say such arrangements could harm startups by making it harder for them to compete with more established -- and better funded -- businesses.
As for AT&T, the company has always publicly said it supported the neutrality rules. This stance makes sense, considering that the regulations were the product of a behind-the-scenes deal between itself and former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
What's more, the rules themselves were weak enough that they appeared to allow AT&T to launch initiatives like Sponsored Data, a new plan that allows companies to pay for their content to be exempted from consumers' data caps. With sponsored data, smartphone users will be able to stream material from companies that pay a fee, without worrying about whether that data is burning through their monthly caps. Broadband advocacy groups are critical of the plan, warning that it will harm small companies that want to offer wireless content, but can't afford to pay for the data-cap exemption.