When Amazon, Facebook, Google and a chorus of startups and activists commence a massive online protest Wednesday to defend net neutrality, they’ll be joined by a company they don’t exactly believe is on their side: AT&T.
The wireless giant says it’s participating in the tech industry’s so-called “day of action,” stressing in a blog post that it believes in “preserving and advancing an open internet” — even though AT&T long has disagreed with staunch net neutrality advocates over how to enforce it.
Tech giants and consumer groups plan to rally Wednesday in support of rules implemented under the Obama administration that subject internet providers, like AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon, to utility-like regulation. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission under the leadership of its new Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, has sought to scrap those rules, arguing they are too heavy-handed.
Pai has the support of AT&T, which previously joined its counterparts in the telecom industry in suing the FCC — unsuccessfully — to quash the government’s existing net neutrality rules. But AT&T insisted its legal qualms with the FCC’s current regulations shouldn’t diminish the fact it believes in the principle of an open internet.
“This may seem like an anomaly to many people,” wrote Bob Quinn, the senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs at AT&T, “who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free internet. But that’s exactly the point — we all agree that an open internet is critical for ensuring freedom of expression and a free flow of ideas and commerce in the United States and around the world.”