Comcast, Charter, Cox take position against AT&T to shore up FTC

gavel auction

Comcast, Charter and Cox have asked a federal appeals court to restore the FTC’s ability to prosecute AT&T for allegedly duping wireless consumers who purchased data plans they thought were unlimited. 

"At first glance, [our] position might seem surprising—four leading corporations are arguing in favor of restoring the FTC’s authority to regulate their non-common carriage activities,” wrote the cable operators, along with Verizon, in an amicus brief filed this week to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

"On closer inspection, however, this position aligns with the companies’ desire to reinstate a predictable, uniform, and technology-neutral regulatory framework that will best serve consumers and businesses alike.”

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission sued AT&T for allegedly offering customers unlimited wireless data usage, then throttling their service when they exceeded 3 to 5 gigabytes of data usage a month. At issue is how AT&T is classified, and who the court thinks should regulate it. 

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled that jurisdiction over the matter falls with the FCC, not the FTC, given AT&T’s status as a “common carrier.” The ruling came even though the alleged infractions occurred from 2011-2014, before the mobile internet was considered a common carrier activity.

Comcast, Charter, Cox and Verizon say competitive bloodlust is not driving them to support the FTC in its quest to have the court reconsider the ruling. They believe the ruling could lead to a lot of bad regulation in the future. 

"If the FTC is divested of jurisdiction over certain non-common carriage activities, it is likely that a variety of federal, state, and local government agencies that lack the appropriate reach, perspective, and experience in consumer protection matters will attempt to fill the perceived 'regulatory gaps,' thereby creating a patchwork of unreasonable, duplicative, and inconsistent rules," the companies said in their brief. 

"This will make it less likely that consumers are adequately protected and more likely that businesses will operate in an uncertain and uneven regulatory environment,” the brief added.