Tech Giants Blast FCC Chairman's Attack on "Free and Open Internet"

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Common Dreams

Tech Giants Blast FCC Chairman's Attack on "Free and Open Internet"

Letter from top companies comes amid growing public protest and internal dissent among Democratic commissioners

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is facing opposition on all sides (though not from Republicans) for his proposed changes to net neutrality guidelines. (Credit: AP file)

In a strongly-worded letter to the Federal Communications Commission delivered on Wednesday, over 100 internet companies and industry innovators—including Google, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon—called on the FCC commissioners to reject recently proposed rules that threaten net neutrality as it urged them to protect the concept of "a free and open internet."

The letter (pdf), coordinated by Engine Advocacy and the Open Technology Institute, reads in part:

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.

"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 both 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.

The companies' collective message to the FCC is quite clear, said Alan Davidson, director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation: "An open Internet is essential for innovation and expression online. This letter represents the collective voice of the world’s strongest innovators and demonstrates a shared commitment to meaningful network neutrality. As the letter argues, broadband communication without discrimination is essential to the success of the Internet economy. The Internet works best when consumers control what they say and do on the connections that they pay for, and the FCC’s rules should protect those connections from discriminatory interference.”

The high-powered letter arrived as two of the FCC's Democratic commissioners expressed their own deep concerns over the rules proposed by Chairman Tom Wheeler (a Democrat himself) last month. Now under consideration for adoption, Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voiced caution against hasty process and indicated that most of the input they've received—both from concerned citizens and from key industry experts—are warning against enshrining a two-tiered internet structure.

"The cracks are beginning to show in Chairman Wheeler's plan that would undermine Net Neutrality. The more people learn about this proposal, the more skeptical they become." —Craig Aaron, Free Press

In a blog post on the FCC website, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn wrote that "tens of thousands of consumers, companies, entrepreneurs, investors, schools, educators, healthcare providers and others have reached out to ask me to keep the Internet free and open."

Rosenworcel, in a public statement, called on Chairman Wheeler and her fellow commissioners to postpone consideration of the rules for at least a month, cautioning against a May 15th deadline now scheduled. "I believe that rushing headlong into a rule-making next week fails to respect the public response to [this] proposal."

The expression of internal divisions and the letter from the tech industry came on the same day that public protests began outside the FCC headquarters in Washington, DC, where citizen activists vowed to maintain a protest camp leading up to May 15.

Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press, one of the key members of a public advocacy coalition that supports net neutrality and has rallied for years to protect and promote the concept of the "open internet" said the coming together of citizens and key industry players is a powerful signal to the FCC that any effort to destroy one of the internet's key concepts will not go down without a fight.

"The cracks are beginning to show in Chairman Wheeler's plan that would undermine Net Neutrality," said Aaron in a statement. "The more people learn about this proposal, the more skeptical they become. "

He continued: "We're encouraged that both Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel are responding to the millions of emails and thousands of phone calls from people demanding real Net Neutrality. It's time the agency took the most sensible next step and reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers. That's the only reasonable way to ensure an open Internet for everyone."

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