AT&T's Cicconi says net neutrality debate feels like 'Groundhog Day'

AT&T's (NYSE: T) legislative affairs chief James Cicconi took to the corporate blogosphere Friday, attempting to establish some new (or old?) linguistic ground rules for an ongoing net neutrality debate that he said is beginning to feel a little bit like the Bill Murray comedy classic Groundhog Day.

James Cicconi, AT&T


His essential message: Just as it was in the run-up to the Federal Communications Commission's landmark net neutrality rulings in 2010, no major Internet service provider today is creating--or plans to create--broadband "fast lanes" or "slow lanes."

"The debate feels a bit like the movie 'Groundhog Day'," Cicconi wrote. "We've all been here before. And just as in 2010, there doesn't seem to be a common understanding of 'paid prioritization,' the FCC's 706 authority, or the scope of Title II regulation."

Further framing his post in Genachowki-era terms, Cicconi referenced the groundbreaking white paper submitted to the FCC by the advocacy group Free Press back in 2010, which outlined three kinds of major ISP malfeasance:

• "Pay-for-Play" -- where an ISP might refuse to carry content unless the content company pays them "additional fees above normal transit costs."

• "Pay-for-Priority" -- where edge providers might pay ISPs for prioritizing traffic on the consumer's broadband Internet access service.

• "Vertical Prioritization" -- where an ISP might prioritize its own vertical content and services on the user's broadband Internet access service.

Wrote Cicconi: "Not a single ISP [in 2010] or now has asserted a desire or right to engage in any of these practices to create 'fast lanes and slow lanes.'  AT&T certainly has no plans or intent to change its position on this."

Of course, the debate hinges on semantics and legalese. Are paid peering deals, which allow high-volume traffic users like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) the ability to house their own infrastructure within the bowels of ISPs, "fast lanes"? Once again, we have to listen to all major sides rhetorically frame that debate as the FCC decides.

Welcome to Groundhog Day. 

For more:
- read this AT&T corporate blog post
- read this Free Press white paper
- read this Multichannel News story

Related links:
Net neutrality wars: AT&T exec calls Netflix's Hastings 'arrogant'
Netflix's Hastings makes a case for stronger net neutrality policy