FCC hedging its common carrier bet in negotiations with AT&T

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Don’t worry, it’s not time to walk away. Yet.

AT&T’s bid to buy DirecTv and add nationwide direct broadband satellite television service to its portfolio is getting caught up in the same kind of debate about broadband access that sunk the Comcast – Time Warner – Charter mega deal. According to a Washington Post article by Brian Fung, AT&T is offering to make concessions in exchange for approval by the federal justice department and the Federal Communications Commission. Top of the list right now is a reported offer by AT&T to accept – at least temporarily – the FCC’s decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service

If AT&T ultimately followed the newer rules for Internet providers, it would be committing to at least three things. It would honor the FCC’s ban on the slowing of Web sites, as well as a ban on blocking Web sites. It would also comply with a ban against taking payments from Web site operators to speed up their content, a practice known as “paid prioritization.”

It is unclear how long AT&T would be required to abide by such a commitment, said the people familiar with the plans.

Other issues on the table, according to Fung, include interconnection agreements with over-the-top television programmers, cut rate standalone Internet service and data caps.

It’s interesting that the FCC thinks it’s necessary to negotiate a deal regarding network neutrality/common carrier rules compliance, and give it such a high priority. In theory, AT&T doesn’t have a choice. Unless an appeals court throws out the rules, of course. It might be a prudent hedge on the FCC’s part. Or it might be a lack of confidence that it’ll win in court.