AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile Unlikely To Challenge Net Neutrality

January 31, 2011 11:42 am

While none of the telecom giants appeared to be thrilled with the net neutrality regulations passed last month, only Verizon and Metro PCS have taken a swing, challenging the FCC. But are the other cellular giants — AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — just letting Verizon take the lead, or are the backing net neutrality?

Both, and neither, according to various sources: they would apparently rather spend their money fighting issues they see as more key to their success, and may see their acceptance of the popular initiative as a competitive advantage.“It has been a very long and drawn out fight, and it has certainly distracted the FCC for the last year. It has distracted the carriers as well, who have spent a lot of time, effort and money in terms of publicly fighting about it and privately fighting about it,” says Larry Downes an industry consultant and author.

Time and resources needed to continue to fixate on the issue is something carriers like Sprint don’t have. In December the company greeted the FCC’s Order with the industry’s most agreeable response: “While Sprint will study carefully the text of the Order, the outline presented at today’s meeting appears to be a fair and balanced approach to a difficult issue. Sprint is encouraged that the Commission has resolved this issue and is moving forward.”

Net neutrality is not something Sprint has spent as much time on as its competitors, says spokesman John Taylor. “Sprint’s resources are limited and focused more on issues like special access reform and 700 MHz spectrum,” he explained.

Meanwhile, AT&T declined to comment, but responded by directing TPM to a video clip of Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president of legislative and external affairs, begrudgingly admitting that AT&T was “comfortable with the order,” at a net neutrality panel held earlier this month.

“It is very, very unlikely that AT&T will file suit,” said Downes. “They’ve said publicly and repeatedly that they are comfortable with the net neutrality order and I take that as a pretty strong indication that they are not going to litigate it.”

AT&T certainly has the resources to join the fight, but Downes said that the company doesn’t think the rules putt undo restrictions on their activities, and that, if the rules are allowed to stand, the company at least has some sense of certainty. “They can move on to other things, there are other big problems, particularly having to do with wireless spectrum, universal service fund, and those are the fights that can be taken up if the net neutrality story goes away.”

And not challenging the FCC could be a strategy of its own says Christine Goepp, a communications lawyer at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, PLC. “It might be a measure of how they decide to approach the issue; of when and how hard to push back.” Verizon has chosen to take a combative stance, but she says, it would be equally reasonable for any company to weigh their options and lay a bit of groundwork for future cooperation with the FCC.

T-Mobile declined to comment on any pending litigation plans and directed TPM to the CTIA (The International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry) who also declined to comment.

Like AT&T and Sprint, it seems unlikely that T-Mobile would challenge the FCC. Rather, the company appears tired of the subject — in a statement last month Tom Sugrue, vice president of government affairs said they would carefully review the FCC’s decision before comment on the order but that they “do hope by adopting this item it is now possible for the FCC to turn to the priorities of its national broadband plan, including acting on its pro-competitive data roaming proposal and making more spectrum available to support the continued deployment of advanced mobile broadband services so important to economy.”

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