The road to net neutrality and winning the Internet, as it were, won't be one that's quickly or easily traveled. On the bright side, Federal Communications Chairman (FCC) Tom Wheeler earlier this month announced quite plainly that the FCC will propose reclassifying the Internet as a utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, putting it into the same category that power companies fall into. Doing so would give the FCC the power it needs to regulate Internet so that it stays free and open, but as you can imagine, telcos and ISPs aren't particularly happy about this. In fact, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson warned that litigation is coming.
It's no secret that those opposed to the FCC's proposed plan will seek to block the effort in court, but in case confirmation was needed, Stephenson gave it during an interview on "Squawk Box" that aired on Friday. While speaking on "Squawk Box," the AT&T boss said he's on board with a free and open Internet, one "without any blocking and without any prioritization." However, he doesn't feel that Title II is the right way to go about it.
"We have now, under the president's urging with the FCC, moved from pursuing a free and open Internet to regulating the Internet end to end," Stephenson said. He also said that if the FCC and administration are committed to this path, as they are, "there will be litigation."
Stephenson acknowledged that once something like this is put into place, it's difficult to undo it, though not unprecedented. Nevertheless, Stephenson the first thing AT&T and other industry players will likely do is ask for a stay to prevent the reclassification from going into effect.
"It's hard to put in something like this and then undo it. Title II services are taxed differently. Are we going to tax the consumer immediately for these? Are we going to wait for rulings," Stephenson added.
Asking for a stay is probably the best strategy available to industry players who oppose the FCC's plan. If granted, it would give them time to mount a bigger legal strategy while simultaneously campaigning their message to broadband subscribers. We've already seen some scare tactics being used; none worse than a poorly acted video put out by the CTIA. Check it out:
If you can't view the video for whatever reason, the message is that everything's going to fall apart. Or more specifically, your wireless coverage will suffer, taxes will increase, and even Pandora will cease to be free.
Regardless of any upcoming litigation, the pendulum has swung and it's now the telcos and ISPs that face a uphill battle.