12/29/2006 10:02 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Netroots Victory: AT&T Agrees to Net Neutrality as Condition of Merger

In a striking victory for Internet freedom advocates, AT&T officials agreed on Thursday night to adhere to strict Network Neutrality conditions if allowed to complete their proposed $85 billion merger with BellSouth.

AT&T's concession followed more than a week of often pointed negotiations between the two Federal Communications Commission's two Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, and the two voting Republicans. The Democrats stood firm in the face of enormous pressure, and won concessions that have transformed the debate over the future of the Internet.

In the words of Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott, "We are no longer having a debate about whether Net Neutrality should be the law of the land; we are having a debate about how and when."

The campaign for this once-arcane issue has been driven by one of the biggest online advocacy campaigns ever, as web users came to realize that the current debate will determine the future of virtually all communications - TV, radio, phone, Web and other emerging technologies.

Approval of the merger by the full commission could come as early as today, according to the Associated Press. AT&T's agreement puts to rest their own executives' argument that Net Neutrality doesn't really exist. (Watch AT&T chief Ed Whitacre in action) In AT&T's letter to the FCC, they committed to observing Net Neutrality for the next 24 months and defined the term in the text of their letter.

It also puts to rest the bogus argument that Net Neutrality will cripple the largest phone companies' plans to build out broadband services. AT&T agreed to this condition -- and also to offer cheaper broadband services -- and yet they continue to expand their networks and offer services to the tune of $24.5 billion in gross profits in 2006. AT&T's agreement to these merger terms reduces to industry spin their argument that Net Neutrality and profit are mutually exclusive.

Now that the FCC and AT&T have agreed that Net Neutrality is right for the future of the Internet, it's time for Congress to forge legislation that instills this guiding principle into law.

With the help of Commissioners Adelstein and Copps, we have won more than a temporary condition on a mega-merger. They have set the bar for the future of the Internet, and paved our path to success on Capitol Hill.

"Making Net Neutrality a condition of the largest merger in telecommunications history sets an important precedent," Scott continued on Thursday. "It's now up to the new Congress to craft a forward-looking broadband policy that will bring the benefits of the Internet to all Americans. For free speech, democratic participation and economic innovation to thrive online, Net Neutrality must be the law."

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