AT&T: Don’t Regulate Me, Regulate My Competitors

by on November 19, 2007 · 4 comments

Chairman Kevin Martin’s attempt to assert broad – and virtually unlimited — powers over cable television has sparked a real imbroglio over at the FCC. The key question: has the cable industry reached the magic 70 percent penetration rate required to trigger new regulatory powers? Martin says yes, apparently using numbers from Warren Communications (the owner of Communications Daily). Warren Communications itself, however, has said its data shows no such thing. Fellow GOP commissioners Robert McDowell and Deborah Tate – apparently feeling a bit betrayed by Martin — on Thursday took the unusual step of writing directly to Warren Publishing for “any and all information” regarding the data.

Warren hasn’t responded yet, but that hasn’t stopped a handful of regulation supporters from weighing in in defense of the FCC’s attempted power grab. Among them: Free Press, the Media Access Project, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, AT&T…

Whoa! What’s AT&T doing in this motley group?


AT&T, after all, has spent the past several years fighting against the pro-regulatory agenda of just these groups, arguing that the marketplace, not FCC bureaucrats, should govern telecommunications. But there it was, arguing to the FCC last week that –yes – the cable industry has reached the 70 percent level (and therefore regulation can be authorized.)

A reversal of policy for AT&T? No – in fact AT&T has taken the same position on this issue since it was called SBC. The difference seems to be more elemental: the other battles involve regulation of AT&T’s activities, while this one concerns AT&T’s competitors.

AT&T’s lobbyists – like those of many other companies – would defend such seeming inconsistency. Their job, they argue, is to advance the interests of their firm, not to advocate abstract free-market principles. True enough – and that’s why so many on the left are off-base when they assume that being pro-market and being pro-big business are the same thing.

But AT&T’s “practical politics” approach may not in fact even be in the best interests of AT&T. Simply put, planting regulatory weeds in your neighbors back yard makes it rather more likely that they will grow in your yard too. Ideas matter – as does credibility. Lobbyists that enthusiastically talk up the benefits of regulation for their competitors may not find themselves taken seriously when they describe the problems that will occur when it is imposed on themselves.

Some firms know this. Verizon, for instance, typically avoids “regulate thy neighbor” tactics. In the present controversy, it has for the most part has argued simply that competition is the answer.

That approach is not only more consistent and more effective, but also – not coincidentally — right.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com enigma_foundry

    “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it. The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.”

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com enigma_foundry

    “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it. The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.”

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com enigma_foundry

    True enough – and that’s why so many on the left are off-base when they assume that being pro-market and being pro-big business are the same thing.

    It is very rarely the left that have trouble with this concept, but usually the right, who frequently disguise their pro-business (and pro-big consolidated business, to be more precise) with all kinds of pro-market rhetoric, which they abandon immediately when it does not suit their paymasters.

    Exhibit No. 1: Progress and Freedom Foundation, and those posters at IPCentral who are determined to give away freedom to obtain a little economic benefit.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com enigma_foundry

    True enough – and that’s why so many on the left are off-base when they assume that being pro-market and being pro-big business are the same thing.

    It is very rarely the left that have trouble with this concept, but usually the right, who frequently disguise their pro-business (and pro-big consolidated business, to be more precise) with all kinds of pro-market rhetoric, which they abandon immediately when it does not suit their paymasters.

    Exhibit No. 1: Progress and Freedom Foundation, and those posters at IPCentral who are determined to give away freedom to obtain a little economic benefit.

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