As previously noted, few things besides Net Neutrality can bring AT&T and Verizon together, but President Barack Obama proved he could turn the tables again and again at last week’s SuperComm telecom conference in Chicago.
Even on opening day, two of SuperComm’s three keynote Q&A panelists were pulled by Obama for “pressing business” in Washington, according to a source: Jonathan Adelstein, administrator of Rural Utilities Service, and Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information for the NTIA. That left only Blair Levin, an executive director at the FCC, to try and talk up all the great grant money the government’s hoping to inject into the telecom industry
But as AT&T’s Jim Cicconi said during an earlier panel, there’s been a whole lot of loud non-interest in this stimulus funding, since the major telecoms are passing it based on what they say are too many strings attached, particularly since it’s only a hair over $7 billion distributed across 50 states, mere chump change for major telecom players. While smaller ventures are eagerly bidding away, none of the major service providers have touched the stimulus funds (I would also wager it’s because these major providers generally avoid the rural, low-ARPU areas the stimulus targets like the plague to begin with).
So that left the major carriers and the industry that supports them (hardware manufacturers, consultants, integrators … the list goes on) to bemoan the drafting of net neutrality regulations every chance they get. It dominated every panel it could work its way in to, from ones specifically about rural initiatives to a talk on DRM and digital media distribution.
So what’s next?
Well, despite a surprisingly conciliatory joint statement between Verizon and Google just days after Verizon’s CEO blasted net neutrality, this fight is far from over for either side. It was one of big telecom’s biggest lobbying efforts ever, and SuperComm attendees seemed geared up to keep fighting. Even if regulations do come through, for example, they are largely expected to end up with a large legal loophole along the lines of “reasonable network maintenance.” This was the grounds on which Comcast swatted down BitTorrent sharing, and unless the regulations are worded quite carefully, service providers might find plenty of avenues to stop competing voice and video services from denting their revenues.