Net neutrality: Internet companies urge FCC to preserve rules

A trade group representing some of the biggest internet companies in the world wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging it to preserve Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

Internet Association, which includes Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft, filed the letter on Monday, arguing the proposed rollback by the current Republican-majority FCC will do more harm than good.

The letter follows last week’s “Day of Action,” which saw internet companies and advocacy groups band together to  try to persuade the FCC to drop the rollback.

On Monday, which is the deadline for the first round of FCC’s public-comment period, more than 8.4 million comments had been submitted online — the most for any FCC proposal.

“Undoing the Commission’s 2015 Order, and even continuing to discuss reopening the settled open internet debate, will create significant uncertainty in the market and upset the careful balance that has led to the current virtuous circle of innovation in the broadband ecosystem,” wrote Internet Association’s president Michael Beckerman and general counsel Abigail Slater.

Net neutrality is a longstanding digital principle that internet service providers should treat all web traffic equally and fairly. This means providers cannot prefer one website or service over the other by granting unequal loading speeds or by blocking or slowing content. 

In its letter, the association pushed back on the notion that the regulations, also being referred to as Title II — the provision under the Communications Act that was cited in giving the FCC the authority to regulate broadband — hindered internet service providers’ investment in innovation. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who proposed the rollback known as “Restoring Internet Freedom,” called Title II a “bureaucratic straitjacket” on providers.

Broadband investment by providers, subscription rates and speeds have all steadily increased over the past few years, according to the letter.

“There is no reliable evidence that the 2015 Order has reduced ISPs’ investments in broadband infrastructure,” wrote the Internet Association. “Multiple, independent metrics… demonstrate that ISP claims of depressed investment don’t mesh with reality.”

Despite 2 million-plus comments submitted last week during the Day of Action, Pai suggested the next day at a monthly FCC meeting that he was not fazed.

Earlier this year, anti-net neutrality bots flooded FCC’s electronic comment website, raising concerns about how many of the comments are legitimate.

“As I said previously, the raw number is not as important as the substantive comments that are in the record,” Pai said.  “We want to weigh all comments and make sure that we take a full view of the record, and again make the appropriate judgment based on those facts and the law as it applies.”

Tim Wu, a Columbia University professor considered the main architect of net neutrality, said on Twitter that the FCC ignoring the quantity of comments would be “just plain undemocratic.”

One faction that could sway Pai are large internet providers such as Comcast and AT&T. Both recently showed support for net neutrality despite a longstanding history opposing it and any regulatory iterations. AT&T even joined the Day of Action without the organizers’ invitation, allowing consumers to comment to the FCC through its policy website. The companies say they support legislation to address the issue, but the public has reason to be skeptical of what that would entail.

While Monday is the deadline for consumers to submit public comments, they will be able to reply to these comments and share their opinions until August 16.

Photo: Proponents of net neutrality protest against Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outside the American Enterprise Institute before his arrival May 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

 

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