AT&T Calls on Congress to Protect Net Neutrality, Create an 'Internet Bill of Rights'

AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson provides an overview of developments in the AT&T and Time Warner merger on November 20, 2017, in New York City. Amir Levy/Getty Images

AT&T expressed support for net neutrality in a series of advertisements published Wednesday, calling on Congress to establish an "Internet Bill of Rights" that would provide consistency for telecommunications companies.

The ads appeared in major U.S. newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times, pledging not to block specific websites or decrease broadband speeds based on content. AT&T wants clarity in regulations, after years of varying policy from the past several administrations.

The company opposed the government's previous attempts to establish a federal net neutrality standard, and sued the Federal Communications Commission in 2015 to try and block the net neutrality order that the Obama administration wanted to implement to oversee the industry more carefully. Those rules were rolled back late last year, opening the possibility of internet providers speeding up some sites and slowing down others based on content or how much a customer pays for service. Internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have primarily opposed net neutrality laws.

But AT&T's change in tone regarding net neutrality could be because the company is seeking to avoid dealing with state-level rules. Many states, such as Washington and Montana, have sought to establish their own net neutrality laws to replace the loss of the federal oversight, circumventing the FCC's decision with wide-ranging results, leaving an unstable future for broadband companies.

"Because the internet is so critical to everyone, it's understandably confusing and a bit concerning when you hear the rules have recently changed, yet again," wrote AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson in the ads. "Legislation would ... provide consistent rules of the road."

Stephenson wants the "Internet Bill of Rights" to provide some stability for companies like his, calling for a guarantee of open internet and privacy protections. The ad did not specifically mention paid prioritization, the idea that an internet company could charge certain customers (like startups or tech giants) more for faster delivery, often called "online fast lanes."

The Senate is expected to vote on legislation to overrule the FCC's repeal, with strong support among Democratic senators and some from Republicans. Analysts say that a resolution to prevent the repeal from taking effect is a long shot, because it's unlikely to make it through the Republican majority in the House.