AT&T's Man in the White House

When President Obama said he was going to "bring change to Washington," no one expected William Daley to be his choice to get the job done.

Obama's incoming chief of staff is about as corporate friendly as any Democratic insider can be, which is saying a lot.

For supporters of an open Internet, Daley's appointment raises the prospect that the president will break all promises to defend Net Neutrality at the urging of a chief of staff determined to cozy up with industry and protect the status quo.

The outlook for any progress under Daley is dim.

Daley currently serves as a top executive at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co -- concerning those who had hoped to see this president rein in a reckless financial sector.

Daley once told the New York Times that the Obama administration had "miscalculated" by moving too far to the left on health care reform -- concerning those who had hoped the president would fight Republican efforts to repeal the law.

Daley served as a special counsel to President Clinton in 1993, helping the administration's successful push to ratify NAFTA -- concerning those across the labor movement, who delivered supporters to Obama by the busload.

It's worse for advocates of open and democratic media. From 2001 through 2004, Daley led lobbying efforts for SBC Communications, Inc. His first assignment was to lock in the company's local monopolies while allowing it to charge extortionate rates for competitors seeking to share SBC's lines, defying a basic communications principle known as "common carriage."

He was a top executive at SBC as the company laid the groundwork for its 2005 takeover of AT&T Corporation, after which it rebranded the merged entity as AT&T Inc. During that time, Daley worked very closely with Randall Stephenson, who has since risen through the ranks to become AT&T CEO and chairman.

He joined Stephenson and former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre in a 2002 meeting to lobby the FCC's top brass for industry deregulation. Daley, Stephenson and Whitacre wanted the FCC to declare that high-speed Internet access would no longer be considered a "telecommunications service," but rather an "information service." The regulatory change would give phone and cable companies broad latitude to raise prices, stifle competition and control consumer choice on the Web.

An all-too-compliant FCC obliged later that year, removing high-speed Internet access services from regulation under common carriage. Daley supported this radical move, which reversed the long-held rule establishing nondiscriminatory communications networks as essential to economic opportunity and innovation. (Read Aparna Sridhar's 2010 report for a good history of this deregulatory process).

In so doing, the FCC undercut its own ability to keep Internet providers from gutting Net Neutrality and interfering with our right to connect to any website, service or application on the Web.

AT&T Stakes Its Claim to the Oval Office

Now companies like Comcast and AT&T are vying to be the Internet's new gatekeepers -- creating special lanes for their own websites and services, or for those of a few big corporate partners, while leaving the rest of us on a digital dirt road.

However you look at it, there are very few degrees that separate Daley from his successor at AT&T, James Cicconi, who now leads lobbying efforts for the communications giant.

Daley's appointment to the White House brought praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where Cicconi serves as a director. The Chamber marches in lockstep with AT&T in opposing Net Neutrality. Working together, the two groups have been very effective in buying up opposition to Net Neutrality among Democrats and Republicans alike.

AT&T is the largest single corporate contributor to congressional campaigns, since 1989 giving more than $45 million in donations to both Republican and Democratic candidates. It spent nearly $13 million on DC lobbyists just in 2010.

AT&T has staked out the legislative branch. With Daley to start work in days, it can now make a claim to the White House, too.

Thus far, AT&T-funded Republicans have introduced one bill, designed to strip the FCC of its power to protect the open Internet. The president was expected to veto this and other anti-Net Neutrality legislation should it make its way to his desk.

But with Daley at his side, how long will it be before Obama caves?