AT&T Urges Employees To Protest FCC Net Neutrality Rules


The FCC attempted to solicit feedback regarding its proposed net neutrality rules with the advent of a dedicated blog post on which interested individuals and organizations can post comments in the days leading up to the agency's Thursday meeting on the issue.

AT&T, however, sent a memo to employees aimed at capitalizing on the FCC's open forum. Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, sent a letter to U.S.-based employees, compelling them, their families and friends to use the FCC blog,, to express opposition to the proposed net neutrality rules and demanding that the agency halt its forward track of Internet regulation.

Cicconi added that employees should use a personal e-mail address, which would downplay the fact that the comments were sourced from AT&T and likely disguise any pre-conceived biases reflecting their company's stance on the issue.

"Over the last few weeks an extraordinary number of voices expressed concern over news reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is poised to regulate the Internet in a manner that would drive up consumer prices, and burden companies like ours while exempting companies like Google," Cicconi said in his memo. "We encourage you, your family and friends to join the voices telling the FCC not to regulate the Internet."

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The letter offers five points that AT&T employees can use to make a case against net neutrality on the FCC blog in the days preceding the agency's Thursday meeting.

Among other reasons, Cicconi argued that the proposed net neutrality regulations would disrupt service, jeopardize jobs, "halt private investment" in the Internet, "burden the industry with unnecessarily harmful regulations" and "stop the promise of cost-saving, life-saving services such as telemedicine" for everyday users.

"The net neutrality rules as reported will jeopardize the very goals supported by the Obama administration that every American has access to high-speed Internet services no matter where they live or their economic circumstance. That goal will be lost at a time when the country can least afford it," Cicconi said.

However, others in favor of net neutrality regulations harshly rebuked AT&T for using what was tantamount to scare tactics to pressurize employees to submit comments and letters in protest of the legislation.

"Cicconi urges them to choose from a list of talking points sanctioned by the PR department—fearful perhaps for what employees might say if they went off script," said Tim Karr, campaign director for media reform advocacy organization Free Press, in a blog post. "Coming from one of the company's most senior executives, it's hard to imagine AT&T employees thinking the memo was merely a suggestion."

In particular, Karr singled out a point Cicconi made that claimed net neutrality would "halt private investment," contending that the company in actuality invested more in Internet infrastructure during last year's Net Neutrality merger.

"AT&T is loath to mention that it made considerable network investment when it had to abide by net neutrality conditions, and invested considerably less when it didn't," Karr said. "AT&T's network investment increased immediately following the imposition of the Net Neutrality merger condition and continued to rise over the two years of the merger agreement. When the neutrality condition expired on Dec. 29, 2008, the company sharply reduced its investment. So when Cicconi says that Net Neutrality means no buildout, the opposite is true."

Meanwhile, Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a Washington D.C-based public interest group, maintained in a blog post that Cicconi's arguments were a feeble attempt to garner support by exploiting employees' fears for a cause that ultimately would make the company more accountable and subject them to increased competition.

"No one is saying that network companies can't manage their networks. Of course they can. They just can't do it in a way that favors one party over another. Or, as AT&T agreed to when it took over BellSouth, it can't prioritize bits based on 'source, ownership or destination." Brodsky said.

"No one wants harmful regulations, but playing fair with customers doesn't seem particularly harmful," he added.

The FCC plans to hold its first meeting intended to begin development of proposed net neutrality regulations Thursday.