Tech Giants Protest FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules Ahead of May 15 Vote

More than 100 tech companies have written to the FCC to protest the agency's net neutrality proposal, which would allow companies to strike paid prioritization deals.

net neutrality

More than 100 tech companies have written to the Federal Communications Commission in opposition to the agency’s proposed net neutrality rules, which will be put forward at a meeting on May 15. The letter comes after several tech company leaders went to D.C. last week to plead their case.

In January, a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s 2010 rules, and many tech and media industry leaders have since predicted the end of the open Internet as we know it.

The letter recognizes the role of the media in possibly misunderstanding the FCC’s new proposals, but clearly calls out “paid prioritization,” which would divide the Internet into faster and slow lanes. The 2010 order prohibits broadband providers like Time Warner Cable from blocking traffic on wired networks coming from Netflix, Skype and others by putting them into an Internet “slow lane.”

Wheeler’s new proposal would let broadband providers strike deals with Internet companies for paid prioritization, or preferential treatment, which open-Internet advocates say is in contrast to the principles of net neutrality because it gives wealthy companies an advantage over startups.

From the letter:

According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.

Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low.

Such rules are essential for the future of the Internet. This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist, is facing internal dissent to his proposal as well. Two FCC commissioners recently expressed doubts about Wheeler’s direction.

In a speech on Wednesday, commissioner Rosenworcel urged the agency to delay next week’s vote on the rules by at least a month. “I believe that rushing headlong into a rule-making next week fails to respect the public response to his proposal.”

Wheeler said “reports that we are gutting the open Internet rules are incorrect” and the FCC has issued a statement reiterating Wheeler’s plan to hold the vote next week. According to Time:

In the wake of the January federal court ruling striking down the FCC’s open Internet order, many net neutrality advocates called for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service subject to the common carrier provisions of the Communications Act.

Such a move would restore the FCC’s authority to enforce net neutrality, but it also would prompt a major backlash from broadband giants like AT&T and Verizon — which bitterly oppose reclassification — and their lobbyists and allies on Capitol Hill. In his speech, Wheeler reiterated his current opposition to reclassification, but said the option remains on the table.

The Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) due out on May 15th will detail the FCC’s reasoning around the new framework and give the public an opportunity to respond with questions and concerns.

Public interest groups are questioning how the proposed rules will ensure that ISPs won’t discriminate against others crossing their networks. As Gigaom reports, “The agency will replace the ‘unreasonable discrimination’ clause from the original net neutrality rules that were defeated in court this year with standards associated with ‘commercial reasonableness.'”

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