AT&T Chief Calls on Congress to Enact Internet Bill of Rights

AT&T Chief Calls on Congress to Enact Internet Bill of Rights

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Randall Stephenson, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Inc., speaks during the WSJDLive Global Technology Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. The conference brings together an unmatched group of top CEOs, founders, pioneers, investors and luminaries to explore tech opportunities emerging around the world. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Brian Fung, a reporter covering technology for The Washington Post, today reports that AT&T’s Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson has called upon Congress to enact a national net neutrality law that applies to internet service providers and tech companies alike.

Presented in a series of full-page ads in major media outlets, including the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the LA Times, Stephenson reiterated AT&T’s commitment to an open internet, emphasizing that the company does not block, throttle, discriminate, degrade network performance or censor content.

In an effort to avoid yet another round of fractious, decades’ long debates over net neutrality following the Federal Communications Commissions’ latest decision to overturn its 2015 net neutrality rules, Stephenson sees the creation and passage of an Internet Bill of Rights as a means of creating a level playing field for corporate conduct and consumer expectations, regardless of whether the practices of ISPs or tech companies are at issue.

“Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users,” Stephenson says.

As Fung notes, it’s unclear whether this latest effort for comprehensive open internet legislation will gain traction, particularly in such a polarized political climate. This latest positioning does represent a significant shift in this on-going policy debate, however.

“AT&T’s call for the bill to apply equally to Internet companies and providers reflects a turning point for the long-running net neutrality saga as well as for Silicon Valley’s fortunes in Washington,” he says. “Silicon Valley is facing a wider reckoning as policymakers have dragged companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify before Congress about their roles in the 2016 election, in spreading fake news and misinformation, and in tackling online harassment and extremism.

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