Over 200 companies urge FCC to maintain net neutrality


More than 200 businesses and organizations have signed and released a joint open letter to the  Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday, November 27, urging it to maintain net neutrality regulations.

The letter comes three weeks ahead of December 14, the date during which the FCC intends to vote on rolling back current net neutrality rules.   Advocates of net neutrality say doing so will remove protections that ensure a free and open internet.

Included in the letter’s large list of companies are Airbnb, Automattic (owner of WordPress), Codeacademy, Github, Pinterest, Tumblr (despite being owned by Verizon), Sonos, Square, Squarespace, and Twitter to name a few.  These companies join other giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google who have openly advocated for net neutrality.

The letter was fittingly released on Cyber Monday, a day the letter called a “testament to the power of the free and open internet”.  It cites that $400 billion in online sales were made in 2016 — $3.5 billion alone were from Cyber Monday.

“The internet is increasingly where commerce happens,” the letter says.

Under current net neutrality rules enacted by the 2015 Open Internet Order under the Obama administration, internet service providers (ISPs) — Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cox, Charter, etc. — are prohibited from blocking, throttling, or charging consumers to pay for “fast lane” access to certain sites.

The idea of net neutrality generally describes a free and open internet where everyone gets equal access to the same content, or in the case of the Cyber Monday letter, have equal opportunity to compete for consumers.

“This economic growth is possible because of the free and open internet,” the companies said.

“Our current net neutrality rules support innovation and gives all businesses the opportunity to compete equally for consumers,” they added.

Without the rules, the companies and supporters of net neutrality argue that ISPs would be able to put businesses into “slow lanes”, require them to pay a toll to reach customers, or even block them.

“This would put small and medium-sized businesses at a disadvantage and prevent innovative ones from even getting off the ground,” said the open letter.  “An internet without net neutrality protections would be the opposite of the open market, with a few powerful cable and phone companies picking winners and losers instead of consumers.”

Yet despite the many urges to keep net neutrality regulations, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai — who was appointed by Trump in 2017 and once served as an attorney for Verizon — has remained steadfast in his stance to revoke the regulations.  His final draft proposal was released on Wednesday, November 22.

There are a number of arguments net neutrality supporters have against Pai’s proposal, but an argument most are focusing on has to do with the reclassification of broadband internet.

Whereas current net neutrality regulations classify broadband internet as a “utility”, Pai’s 210-page document proposes it be reclassified as a “telecommunications service”, essentially giving ISPs more control over how their customers get access to the internet, according to his opponents.

This would also put ISPs under the watch of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rather than the FCC.  The FTC would thus be in charge of making sure the companies adhere to a set of “open internet” principles.

Pai said that under his proposal, the FTC “will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015.”

But critics of Pai’s proposal argue that unlike the FCC, the FTC will not be able to protect consumers and users before they become victims.  They also point out that the extent to which the FTC has on policing broadband providers remains ambiguous.

Pai has also repeatedly argued that the current rules have been stifling ISP companies, thus preventing them from growing.

In a statement, he said that the regulations “depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.”

He reiterated his stance in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Tuesday in which he said, ”In the two years after the FCC’s decision, broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6 percent — the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession.”

Those for net neutrality say otherwise.  Back in May, pro-net neutrality advocacy group Free Press released a report that cited ISPs saying that they had not been hurt by net neutrality.

“We found that not a single publicly traded U.S. ISP ever told its investors (or the SEC) that Title II negatively impacted its own investments specifically,” the report said.

ISPs cited in the report include AT&T whose CEO told investors that the company would actually “deploy more fiber” in 2016, and Charter whose CEO told investors, “Title II, it didn’t really hurt us; it hasn’t hurt us.”

With less than three weeks to go until voting time, advocates for net neutrality maintain that the regulations are necessary for a democratic, open, and competitive market.

Just recently, Comcast — aware of public fears — told CNET that the company currently has no plans to offer fast lanes on the internet if the rollback were to happen.

“Comcast hasn’t entered any paid prioritization agreements.  Period,” said the company’s spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice in an email.  “And we have not plans to do so.”

The FCC will note on the new rules on Thursday, December 14. (Rae Ann Varona / AJPress)

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