If there's one guy who's given AT&T and Verizon a hard time over the past couple years, it's T-Mobile USA CEO John Legere. The foul-mouthed executive — known for dropping f-bombs during corporate events and wearing magenta Chucks in place of wingtips — bedevils his bigger rivals at every opportunity, wielding Twitter like a blunt weapon.
But for all the bluster, Legere actually agrees with his competition on a key point: he thinks that the FCC is at risk of harming competition by stifling the internet with "overzealous regulation."
Don’t let the gov’t kill innovation. It has made us the fastest growing wireless company in America. #netneutrality— John Legere (@JohnLegere) November 10, 2014
Keep the Internet open but don’t let the FCC kill competition with overzealous regulation. #netneutrality— John Legere (@JohnLegere) November 10, 2014
The tweet, of course, is a response to President Obama's message earlier today that he was in full support of Title II regulation of the internet, a move that would allow the FCC to enforce its court-defeated Open Internet rules ensuring that traffic is treated equally and ISPs can't prioritize certain content providers over others.
The whole thing puts Legere in an awkward position. True net neutrality, the kind that would be enforceable under Title II regulation, is broadly recognized as the consumer-friendly approach: no one who pays for internet service wants to live in a world where their ISPs have the authority to block or slow certain content providers (say, for the sake of argument, Netflix) over business disputes or pay-for-play. And Legere, perhaps more than any other executive in tech, loves playing the role of the People's Executive.
But here's the thing: any company that provides internet access is naturally averse to regulation, because regulation generally limits unbounded profiteering in favor of consumer friendliness. And more specifically, a pure and complete interpretation of net neutrality would endanger the legality of T-Mobile's Music Freedom feature, which exempts certain streaming music services from data plans.
Yet, Legere includes the #netneutrality hashtag in his tweet. It's classic regulatory doublespeak, redoubled by Legere's need to keep up appearances. There's really nothing "uncarrier" about it.
The fact is, real net neutrality requires pretty serious regulation. So which is it, Mr. Legere: do you want net neutrality, or do you want to underwrite the same "light regulatory touch" espoused by the very companies you blast for their anti-consumer policies seven days a week?
No matter — mere minutes later, Legere was right back to blasting AT&T for not looking out for its customers:
Shortly afterwards, in response to this article, Legere took to Twitter again to issue a series of tweets that attempted to clarify his position. He landed on the same talking points adopted by many wireline and wireless internet providers over the past few months, chiefly that the far more limited authority granted by Section 706 is preferable to the sweeping authority available under Title II. He also reiterated that he believes in "no blocking" and "no discrimination," which is problematic: Music Freedom literally discriminates between packets to decide which of them count against your data bucket. Legere's trying to walk a line that doesn't really exist.
Update November 10th, 11 PM ET: Story updated with John Legere's tweetstorm response to this article, and our take on his reply.