As AT&T and Verizon prepare to file lawsuits challenging regulation of the Internet as a public utility, here are the three main things the companies don't want you to know:
• There's nothing new about what the Federal Communications Commission is proposing.
• The exact regulatory approach has been used with wireless.
• The change didn't hurt business at all.
In 1993, there were about 16 million cellphone users nationwide. That same year, the FCC started regulating mobile voice service as a public utility, employing what commissioners said would be a "light touch" — the same approach that the agency now is proposing for broadband Internet service.
An inconvenient truth for critics of the FCC's Internet plan is that there are currently more than 335 million mobile devices in use. And the wireless industry boasts that 97 percent of Americans can choose from at least three service providers.
The regulatory switch, in other words, did nothing to hamper innovation, investment or growth.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed reclassifying broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, rather than an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
The upshot of that change would be that the Internet would be considered a public utility, giving regulators a stronger hand in making sure that user privacy is protected and that all content is treated equally by network operators, the basic concept of what is known as network neutrality.
But the behemoths of the telecom world already are painting the move in apocalyptic terms and are pledging to tie things up in court for as long as possible.
Hank Hultquist, an AT&T executive, said the FCC has embarked on "a road to nowhere." He warned that commissioners "are only deceiving themselves" if they believe regulating the Internet as a utility would hold up in court.
Verizon said in a recent statement that the FCC's change would result in "strong legal challenges" and inflict "great harm" on the Internet.
Heavy breathing aside, here's what's really at stake: The telecom industry and its political allies think that a handful of huge companies should pick the winners and losers of the Internet, and they'll do everything possible to maintain the status quo.
"The phone and cable companies want to dictate terms to content providers," said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco advocacy group.
Keep that in mind over the coming days as the likes of Comcast, AT&T and Verizon unleash a PR blitz to convince you that the Internet as you know it is coming to an end.
It isn't. Not even close.
The only question here is whether you trust the phone and cable industries to act in the best interests of consumers, or whether you think a little adult supervision is required.
The wireless industry swore back in 1993 that regulating mobile voice service as a utility would be a death blow for innovation and investment. That totally cool smartphone in your pocket shows how wrong they were.
David Lazarus can be reached at email@example.com.