The Hill - Silicon Valley lawmaker accuses AT&T of 'threatening the open Internet'

January 30, 2014
In The News

By Kate Tummarello

A House Democrat who represents Silicon Valley on Tuesday slammed a business move by AT&T that she says threatens the openness of the Internet.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) took aim at AT&T’s new “Sponsored Data” program, which will allow websites and applications to pay for preferred access.

“The announcement of a sponsored data program by AT&T puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the Internet, threatening the open Internet, competition and consumer choice,” Eshoo, ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications, said in a statement. 

The plan, which was announced Monday, would allow companies to pay a fee so that AT&T wireless subscribers can access certain services without using up part of their wireless data plan.

Eshoo said the move shows the need for an expansion of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Open Internet Rules, which keep Internet providers from treating Internet traffic differently but do not yet apply to wireless services.

“It’s exactly why net neutrality rules came to exist in the first place and why these rules should apply equally to all forms of broadband Internet service,” she said.

Eshoo questioned the benefit to consumers that will come from AT&T’s new program.

“On its face, the ability for consumers to access ‘toll-free’ content seems like long-awaited relief from frustrating data caps. But embedded in programs of this type are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace,” she said. 

“And we must ask just how beneficial a program like this is to consumers who could ultimately foot the bill for the added cost of doing business.”

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who opposes the administration's net neutrality rules, defended AT&T against critics who called on the FCC to investigate how wireless carries use data caps to create more revenue rather than manage network traffic.

"Businesses shouldn’t have to ask the FCC for permission to provide good services consumers demand in our dynamic and competitive environment for cell service,” Blackburn, vice chairwoman of the House Commerce Committee, said in a statement. 

“Every company should have the opportunity to compete for consumers and the FCC should be limited to operating within the confines of its statutory authority. People want us to focus on jobs, not killing innovative business models before they’re even tested."