Investors to AT&T: Let Shareholders Vote on Open, Free Internet Access for All
October 26, 2011
NEW YORK – Shareholders of AT&T Inc. have filed a proposal calling for the company “to publicly commit to operate its wireless broadband network consistent with network neutrality principles” that would maintain open access to the Internet on wireless networks.
The filing comes only weeks before implementation of new Federal Communications Commission rules on network neutrality that provide a broad exemption for wireless broadband networks – the fastest growing segment of the Internet.
AT&T has sought in the past to block shareholders from voting on network neutrality issues. A similar shareholder proposal on wireless networks was excluded from AT&T’s 2011 proxy ballot following a Securities and Exchange Commission staff ruling that net neutrality was not a “significant public policy issue.”
The latest AT&T proposal has been filed by institutional investors including the Nathan Cummings Foundation as well as individual investors including Mike D of the Beastie Boys. Unless the proposal is blocked again, it’s expected to be voted on at the company’s annual meeting in April 2012.
“Net neutrality is clearly a material issue of import for AT&T and for the whole country, which is why it’s critical that shareholders be heard,” said Farnum Brown, Chief Investment Strategist for Trillium Asset Management, LLC, an independent investment firm with more than $900 million under management, which represents some of the filers.
According to Laura Campos, director of shareholder activities at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, “This issue has important implications for both social and economic justice and long-term shareholder value. As a shareholder, the Foundation is concerned that over the longer-term, a failure to operate its wireless broadband network in accordance with the principles of network neutrality could negatively impact AT&T’s market share and damage its reputation with consumers.”
The AT&T shareholder proposal cites research by the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University which concluded that an open Internet accounts for billions of dollars of economic value for Americans.”This economic and social value is an important factor in the growth of our economy and widely diversified investment portfolios,” the proposal states.
The proposal also notes that open Internet policies on wireless networks have particular importance for minority and economically disadvantaged communities. People of color access the Internet via cell phones at a much greater rate than their white counterparts, according to a report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “The digital freedoms at stake are a 21st century civil rights issue,” says Colorofchange.org, an organization representing African-Americans, which is cited by the shareholders.
The shareholder proposal calls on AT&T to proactively ensure that its wireless networks remain open and provide equal access and non-discriminatory treatment for all content.
“Maintaining the existing system of net neutrality for our mobile networks is a win-win – its good for economic growth and good for the principles of free expression that underpin our democracy – the greatest platform the world has known for sustainable economic growth,” said Jonas Kron, Deputy Director for Shareholder Advocacy at Trillium.
The shareholder initiative at AT&T was organized by Open MIC – the Open Media and Information Companies Initiative – a nonprofit organization that seeks to inform corporations’ responsible media management practices. “Net neutrality is necessary to insure competition, entrepreneurship, innovation, and free expression in the digital economy,” said Michael Connor, Open MIC’s Executive Director. “That’s why it is so important that the investor voice be heard.”
The complete text of the AT&T wireless network neutrality proposal is available on the Open MIC web site and can be downloaded here (PDF).
For more information about recent net neutrality issues, visit www.openmic.org.
The Open Media and Information Companies Initiative – Open MIC – is a non-profit organization working to promote a vibrant, diverse media ecosystem through market-based solutions. Founded in late 2006, Open MIC is a project of the Tides Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
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