While the Federal Communications Commission tries to make net neutrality an actual rule, forcing Internet and wireless companies to treat all network traffic equally, the largest U.S. phone company is — surprise, surprise — trying to make a point that the wireless industry doesn’t need more regulation.
In a speech at a wireless conference today, AT&T wireless CEO Ralph de le Vega appealed to the Feds, urging a “cautious approach” to new regulation, which, we presume, could include net neutrality and regulation limiting exclusive handset deals, like AT&T’s with the iPhone.
He also threatened that if the government tries to further regulate the market, AT&T may have to cut jobs and investment and raise prices for consumers.
His argument, like those of many wireless executives before him, is that nothing is “broken” and therefore nothing needs “fixing.”
Stats that show the U.S. has more wireless operators than any other country in the world, offers lowest per-minute pricing, more handset choices, and makes massive investments in new technology. He also said that wireless networks have unique constraints compared to wired broadband networks — to the extent that wireless carriers could get into trouble if they can’t manage networks (potentially violating net neutrality).
It’s true that wireless networks face different challenges than wired networks. (It’d also be very hard for the government to mandate that mobile phone manufacturers make a version of their device for different carriers who use different wireless technologies and spectrum bands.)
But de la Vega hasn’t done anything to convince us that the FCC shouldn’t mandate net neutrality.
Yes, kudos to carriers for making long overdue decisions like AT&T made yesterday to allow VoIP apps — which compete with AT&T’s phone service — on the iPhone.
But consumers should not have to sit around and wait for their service providers to make these decisions for them. If AT&T valued its customers over its own interests, it never would have blocked VoIP apps in the first place.
Requiring that ISPs, including wireless carriers, treat all Internet traffic equally (beyond reasonable network management) is a clear, pro-consumer move. The Internet has become a hugely important utility in our economy and lives, and trusting service providers to maintain neutrality — and not make anti-competitive moves or policies — is not something we should risk, even if it’s not a major problem today.