Net Neutrality: AT&T May Push SCOTUS to Kill Final Net Safeguard

CYBERSPACE—As Democrats in Congress make a last-ditch effort to save net neutrality, and a number of prominent websites including Pornhub stage an online protest Wednesday—posting “red alert” notices on their home pages—one corporate telecommunications giant is considering going straight to the United States Supreme Court to stamp out the final vestige of rules that promote an open internet.

“Net Neutrality” refers to Obama-era regulations that guaranteed equal treatment for websites and other internet content providers by the service providers, or ISPs, such as AT&T. Under net neutrality rules, ISPs were barred from slowing or blocking traffic from certain sites while giving favorable treatment—an “internet fast lane”—to others. But in December, the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission board decided on a party-line 3-2 vote to scrap net neutrality regulations.

For fans and producers of online porn, the net neutrality rollback bodes particularly badly. Without the rules in place, ISPs will be allowed to block access to porn sites completely, or slow their internet speeds to a point where the sites would unusable. ISPs could also bundle and sell access to certain sites for an additional fee over a user’s monthly access subscription charge.

But the rollback order, issued in February, left some weakened remnants of the net neutrality standards remaining. While the FCC took itself out of the business of overseeing rules for an open and equal internet, the Federal Trade Commission was left with the task of protecting the rights of online consumers.

Now, according to a Tuesday report by the technology news site CNet, AT&T—one of the country’s dominant ISPs—may ask the Supreme Court to take even the FTC out of the business of protecting a fair internet. In 2014 the FTC sued AT&T, claiming the telco was scamming customers by selling “unlimited data” internet plans, but then slowing traffic speeds on those plans to intolerably sluggish rates.

AT&T countered by claiming in court that the FTC has no authority to regulate the internet. After an appeals court tossed out AT&T’s claim, the company is now ready to take its case to SCOTUS, with a deadline of May 29 to file a Supreme Court petition.

The report on the possible AT&T move to further cripple net neutrality came on the same day that a blockbuster revelation issued by Michael Avenatti—the attorney representing Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against Donald Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen—and confirmed by several news organizations, showed that AT&T had funneled $200,000 to Cohen through his shell company Essential Consultants LLC.

EC LLC is the same shell company Cohen used to pay $130,000 in “hush money” to Daniels in October of 2016, days before the presidential election. But after Trump became president, AT&T began pouring money into Essential Consultants, a company whose true function, other than collecting and paying out cash on Cohen’s behalf, is unknown.

AT&T confirmed that it made the payments throughout 2017, but said it made its final payment to Cohen’s LLC in December. It was also in December that the FCC voted to end net neutrality rules.

Congressional Democrats are now taking steps to force a vote in the Senate that would override the FCC board’s vote and save net neutrality regulations. But when members of congress have sent letters to Trump-appointed FCC Chair Ajit Pai with questions about the net neutrality rollback, Pai has simply ignored them, responding only with a form letter, the tech news site TechCrunch reported this week.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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