Before anyone gets too excited about AT&T’s network neutrality commitments in connection with its acquisition of BellSouth, read this from the statement of Chairman Martin and Commissioner Tate, the two Republicans involved in the decision:
Importantly, however, while the Democrat Commissioners may have extracted
concessions from AT&T, they in no way bind future Commission action. Specifically, a
minority of Commissioners cannot alter Commission precedent or bind future
Commission decisions, policies, actions, or rules. Thus, to the extent that AT&T has, as
a business matter, determined to take certain actions, they are allowed to do so. There are
certain conditions, however, that are not self-effectuating or cannot be accomplished by
AT&T alone. To the extent Commission action is required to effectuate these conditions
as a policy going forward, we specifically do not support those aspects of the conditions
and will oppose such policies going forward.
For example, todayâ€™s order does not mean that the Commision has adopted an additional
net neutrality principle. We continue to believe such a requirement is not necessary and
may impede infrastructure deployment. Thus, although AT&T may make a voluntary
business decision, it cannot dictate or bind government policy. Nor does this order.
In other words, from the perspective of at least two members of the Commission, AT&T is not under any network neutrality obligations, despite what yesterday’s agreement says. (Add Republican Commissioner McDowell, who recused himself from the proceeding, and that would be a majority of the current FCC.) And of course, the agreement on its face applied only to AT&T, not other broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast.