AT&T Ends Quest To Erode FTC Authority Over Broadband Providers

June 7, 2018 in News by RBN Staff


Source: Tech Dirt


from the zero-accountability dept

As we’ve noted for a while, the ISP attack on net neutrality is only one small part of a broader gambit to eliminate all federal and state oversight of telecom monopolies. Not only did the “Restoring Internet Freedom” net neutrality repeal kill net neutrality, it neutered the FCC’s ability to adequately police some of the most anti-competitive companies in America. At the same time, language embedded in the repeal also attempts to neuter state authority over ISPs, something some cable companies are already using to try and wiggle out of lawsuits over substandard service and slow speeds.

All the while, ISPs and their policy BFFs have tried to argue that this massive neutering of state and FCC authority over ISPs was no big deal because the FTC would rush in and save the day, ignoring the fact that the FTC’s authority over broadband providers is already shaky. The agency can’t make rules as conditions warrant (like the FCC), and can only act against ISPs if a behavior is clearly shown to be “unfair and deceptive,” something not easy to do in the net neutrality realm where anti-competitive behavior is often dressed up as “reasonable network management.”

As ISPs and their allies told anyone who’d listen the FTC was perfectly suited to police ISPs, they routinely “forgot” to mention that AT&T has spent the last few years in court trying to dismantle any remaining FTC authority over ISPs completely as it tried to tap dance around an FTC lawsuit for lying to consumers about the company’s throttling practices. Ironically, AT&T lawyers had been trying to argue that the same common carrier rules AT&T has fought tooth and nail against on the net neutrality front exempt it from FTC oversight.

AT&T’s legal gambit began when the FTC sued AT&T back in 2014 for lying to customers about the company’s throttling practices. But lately those efforts haven’t been going so well, with several lower court rulings hampering AT&T’s quest for zero government accountability. And while AT&T had hinted that it would pursue the case all the way to the Supreme Court, last week the company quietly announced that it wouldn’t be chasing this particular dream any longer:

“AT&T has given up its years-long quest to cripple the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to regulate broadband providers. Just weeks ago, AT&T said it intended to appeal its loss in the case to the US Supreme Court before a deadline of May 29. But today, AT&T informed court officials that it has decided not to file a petition to the Supreme Court and did not ask for a deadline extension.”

In addition to having trouble with lower court rulings, AT&T’s trying to secure regulatory approval for the company’s $86 billion merger with Time Warner. But AT&T’s decision to back off its quest also likely reflects efforts to reach a settlement with the FTC over its throttling practices, and the company’s surely eager to put the four year old case behind it with what (based on other actions by this administration) is likely to be a light wrist slap of a settlement.

On the positive side, this means the FTC can at least make some effort to protect net neutrality when the FCC’s rules officially expire on June 11. That said, even with its authority intact there’s frankly not much the FTC can do to punish ISPs that violate net neutrality provided said ISPs are just a little bit clever about how they go about it. Meanwhile, ISPs like AT&T are still threatening to “aggressively” sue any states that try to protect consumers in the wake of the Trump-induced federal apathy toward bad behavior by giant broadband monopolies.