T-Mobile’s trash-talking, gate-crashing, pot-stirring CEO John Legere has spent much of the last 12 months ridiculing his rivals in the US wireless market—and with great effect. But when it comes to arguably the most important question facing the internet in the US at the moment, his position is exactly the same as his peers.
Overnight, Legere launched a Marc Andreessen-style tweetstorm, outlining his position on net neutrality, the concept that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. The tweets were in response to questioning from The Verge. In case you missed it, US president Barack Obama yesterday called on the country’s Federal Communications Commission to change the way it regulates broadband services, in a move that has been supported by advocates of an open internet but has predictably drawn outrage from Obama’s political opponents.
Defining and enforcing net neutrality is extremely contentious. The FCC has mandated equal treatment of data since 2010, but in January its rules were overthrown in a court challenge by Verizon, a major telecom player. The court’s decision effectively suggested that the FCC could rewrite the rules, relying on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, or simply reclassify internet providers as common carriers under a different provision of the act, Title II. President Obama announced his support for the latter option—a move that would mean telecoms could not charge big bandwidth users extra for “internet fast lanes,” nor block or “throttle” (i.e. slow) certain content.
Meanwhile, despite his persona as the ultimate telecom disrupter and his positioning of T-Mobile as the “un-carrier,” Legere, like the rest of the industry, prefers section 706.
He justifies that stance by saying it is in the interests of innovation.
But that doesn’t really wash with concerns among net neutrality advocates, who say that relying on section 706 could allow internet service providers to discriminate against certain content providers (say, those that don’t buy fast lanes, or that offer competing content services to the ISPs’ own services) and undermine the open web.
The Verge described Legere’s position as “”classic regulatory doublespeak… There’s really nothing ‘uncarrier’ about it.” Legere certainly is the most exciting CEO in his sector, since… probably ever.
But this is a reminder that he’s still first and foremost the CEO of a telecommunications company, and maybe not the champion of consumers he so often is made out to be.