updated 10:53 am EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
Deal approval would bind carrier to net neutrality, but interpretation possible
In an effort to help its bid to buy satellite TV carrier DirecTV, AT&T has now promised to uphold the FCC's previous 2010-era policy on net neutrality for three years following the approval of the merger, "irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules." The FCC has recently voted to abolish the 2010 "Open Internet" guidelines following the court ruling.
As pointed out by Ars Technica, the pledge is similar to one made by Comcast when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011, wherein it pledged to honor the 2010 guidelines until 2018. Recently, however, Comcast executives have said that the 2010 FCC order doesn't prohibit "fast lanes," effectively nullifying its promise.
AT&T, in making the pledge, is also likely to use its own malleable definition of the 2010 guidelines. It did not specify exactly how it interpreted the order during a conference call with investors, nor in its SEC filing making the pledge. The promise could be an empty sop to the FCC in hopes of getting the deal approved, as the FCC is unlikely to enforce any promises made against a document ruled invalid by a federal court and abandoned by the agency itself. The FCC has now voted in favor of new guidelines that allow for "paid prioritization" deals such as those reluctantly entered into by Netflix to ensure priority delivery by Verizon and Comcast, though public backlash against the idea is continuing during the "public comment" period.