A tiny percentage of AT&T shareholders has succeeded in placing on next year’s annual shareholder’s ballot a corporate policy position on wireless network neutrality.
Only 5.9 percent of shareholders sought the move in April’s meeting, but under corporate bylaws and Securities and Exchange Commission rules it was enough to get the measure placed on the ballot. Those shareholders are trying to have the company commit to neutrality on its wireless networks, even though AT&T’s current net neutrality position is that the practice hurts competitiveness, service, and pricing.
AT&T has countless shareholders who rely on it for its relatively high dividend and have likely never even heard the term “net neutrality,” let alone have any idea what it refers to, according to Seton Motley, president of Less Government, a Washington, DC-based free-market think tank.
‘A Killing Tax on Investment’
“A substantial majority of AT&T’s shareholders dislike the idea,” noted Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org, a Washington, DC think tank. “Why? Because they know it would unnecessarily hamstring the company as it seeks to compete in the wildly competitive wireless market. They instinctively recognize that a regulation like net neutrality is a killing tax on investment, which undermines growth and innovation and could only diminish returns on their risk and investment,” he said.
“The market did not grow because of net neutrality,” Wendy added. “It exploded in its absence. Shackling AT&T’s wireless offerings with inhibiting regulation is not only counterintuitive, it’s just plain dumb. I expect the shareholders of Sprint and Verizon to similarly agree when they reject their upcoming net neutrality votes.”
Wendy said the SEC rules and AT&T bylaws should not have required such an issue to be voted on by shareholders. “The FCC is already regulating or overregulating this area, so there is no reason for the SEC to be involved as well.”
Opposed by Bipartisan Majority
According to Motley, giving everyone equal access might sound fair at first blush, but net neutrality would treat spam and work-related Internet traffic the same.
Despite the move by some AT&T shareholders, there is plenty of evidence many see the problems with net neutrality, said Motley.
“In recent voting, 302 members of Congress—a large, bipartisan majority—were against net neutrality, as were more than 150 organizations, state legislators, and bloggers, 17 minority groups and many others,” he said.
Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.