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Pai Slams FCC's Net-Neutrality Fine Against AT&T

Republican FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly strongly dissented from the agency's decision to fine AT&T $100 million for what it said was failing to sufficiently warn customers it would slow broadband speeds, and by how much,  for the highest-volume users grandfathered into its since-ended unlimited data plans.

AT&T said it informed customers and is fighting the fine, which is tied to the network management transparency rule, the only one of the FCC's 2010 Open Internet order rules not thrown out by a federal court.

Commissioner Pai's dissent was scathing. He called it  "a government 'rule' suddenly revised, yet retroactive. Inconvenient facts ignored. A business practice sanctioned after years of implied approval. A penalty conjured from the executioner’s imagination."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has long argued that slowing speeds for "unlimited" plan customers does not deliver on either the promise of broadband or the promise of broadband suppliers that label their broadband service as unlimited. But AT&T said it has made clear its policy of slowing speeds for what some have labeled bandwidth hogs as a way to ensure service is not degraded for others.

Wheeler has also made it clear that fast broadband for all is a government imperative.

Pai points to AT&T's disclosures in labeling the FCC decision Kafkaesque: "Because the Commission simply ignores many of the disclosures AT&T made; because it refuses to grapple with the few disclosures it does acknowledge; because it essentially rewrites the transparency rule ex post by imposing specific requirements found nowhere in the 2010 Net Neutrality Order; because it disregards specific language in that order and related precedents that condone AT&T’s conduct; because the penalty assessed is drawn out of thin air; in short, because the justice dispensed here condemns a private actor not only in innocence but also in ignorance, I dissent."

O'Reilly was less stringent in his objection, calling the violation "tenuous at best." But he had plenty of issues with the decision, including the way the FCC handled the issue. "If the Enforcement Bureau thought there were deficiencies in some of AT&T’s disclosures, it should have taken steps to rectify any concerns prior to imposing a Draconian $100 million penalty and compliance measures," O'Reilly said.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.