RealTime IT News

'Net Coalition Raps AT&T-BellSouth Merger

AT&T's network neutrality concessions for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval of the AT&T-BellSouth merger don't go far enough, a coalition opposing the deal contended today.

In hopes of gaining quick FCC approval of the deal, AT&T last week said it would follow the FCC's network neutrality principles for 30 months after the official closing of its proposed deal with BellSouth.

The Department of Justice unconditionally approved the merger on Oct. 11.

The FCC principles state consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice and plug in and run legal devices of their choice.

The FCC principles also say consumers have a right to competition among network providers, application and service providers and content providers.

AT&T agreed to similar conditions to win approval of its merger with SBC.

"The FCC's policy statement fails to address the critical issue of discrimination against unaffiliated Internet content, applications and services," the It's Our Net Coalition said in a Tuesday FCC filing.

AT&T has proposed charging content, application and service providers such as Amazon and Google different rates based on bandwidth consumption.

The coalition wants the FCC to add another network neutrality provision to the deal requiring AT&T to treat all its broadband network traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner.

"This language would…prohibit tiering schemes that impose additional surcharges on Web companies to 'deliver' Internet content, on top of the considerable fees that those companies and consumers already pay to connect to the Internet," the coalition states in its filing.

AT&T said Tuesday the proper forum for a discussion of network neutrality is the U.S. Congress or an industry-wide forum at the FCC, not a specific deal pending before the FCC.

"Perhaps the efforts of the It's Our Net Coalition will be better served by encouraging all infrastructure providers to accept the same FCC net neutrality principles that AT&T has already agreed to voluntarily," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, told internetnews.com in an e-mail.

Cicconi added, "It is not appropriate or justified to set policy in this area based on applying merger conditions on only one company."

The It's Our Net Coalition also notes AT&T agreed to follow the FCC principles for only 30 months.

"There is no evidence that the duopoly position that holds today will change appreciably in that timeframe," the coalition wrote in its filing.

According to the FCC, more than 99 percent of Americans receive their broadband connections from either an incumbent telephone company or a cable company.

"More critically, the share of alternative broadband platforms has been decreasing over time, from a less-than-impressive 2.9 percent in 1999 to an anemic 0.4 percent today," the filing states. "At best…the consumer broadband market in this country can only be characterized as an entrenched duopoly."

The merger would make AT&T the world's largest telecommunications company with 70 million landline customers across 22 states. Currently a co-owner of Cingular Wireless with BellSouth, the deal would also give AT&T full control of the nation's largest cellular company.

Combining the two companies' DSL broadband customers would give AT&T 9.1 million high-speed Internet customers, barely behind market leader Comcast's 9.3 million subscribers.

"The proposed merger of AT&T and BellSouth will only serve to solidify that duopoly," the coalition said in its filing.

The FCC plans a Nov. 3 vote on the merger.