AT&T Wants Congress To Regulate Search Engines, Social Networking Sites, Other Publishers

AT&T, a steadfast opponent of the prior net neutrality rules, has launched a new ad campaign touting what it dubiously calls an "Internet Bill of Rights."

"Congressional action is needed to establish an “Internet Bill of Rights” that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users," the company says in ads that ran this week in newspapers including The New York Times and Washington Post.

The telecom, which sued to overturn the 2015 net neutrality rules, now says it's "committed to an open internet." AT&T's concept of an open internet leaves a lot to be desired.

The telecom says it doesn't block sites, censor content or degrade network performance based on content. But net neutrality -- at least as defined by consumer advocates, not to mention Columbia law professor Tim Wu, who coined the term -- is a lot broader than simply not blocking or throttling sites.

For instance, the net neutrality rules that were passed by the FCC in 2015 also banned carriers from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The 2015 order also was interpreted to ban carriers from discriminating by exempting their own content from consumers' data caps. AT&T violated that principle, according to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, by excluding DirecTV video streams from wireless customers' data caps -- a practice that could effectively discourage customers from watching Amazon Prime or Netflix.

AT&T also says in its new ad campaign that new laws should apply "across all websites, content, devices and applications" -- meaning that the telecom wants companies like Google and Twitter to be subject to the same regulations as broadband carriers.

AT&T isn't the only one to suggest that companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter should be subject to some sort of "neutrality" rules -- despite the obvious differences between companies that provide broadband access and those that offer content. A major one is that consumers have a lot more choice about which websites to visit than which broadband companies to use.

Net neutrality advocates were quick to point out some of the most glaring problems with AT&T's public call for the so-called Bill of Rights.

“In the long run, a permanent law must do much more than what AT&T calls for," Public Knowledge Vice President Chris Lewis stated. "It must not only protect net neutrality, but also empower the FCC to protect other critical consumer protections that many Americans expect and take for granted, until they are gone."

Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood added in a statement that AT&T's "head fake toward one-size-fits-all rules for all websites and content providers should fool no one."

Wood continued: "No matter how much it wants to pretend otherwise, when a company like AT&T connects you to the internet, that’s not the same thing as the information and content you find online. ISPs aren’t like newspapers, movie studios or even social-media platforms that produce and curate information for their users."

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