Small Broadband Providers Urge FCC To Preserve Net Neutrality

The country's largest Internet service providers may have enthusiastically endorsed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to gut the net neutrality rules, but some smaller providers feel differently.

This week, dozens of small Internet service providers urged the agency to back away from Pai's proposal to classify broadband as an "information" service. In 2015, the agency voted 3-2 to classify broadband as a "telecommunications" service -- a move that enabled the agency to impose common carrier rules, including bans on blocking or degrading traffic, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

If the FCC follows through with Pai's plan, it will be unable to enforce net neutrality rules -- including prohibitions on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. Pai has claimed that the decision to classify broadband as a common-carrier service spurred a decrease in broadband investment; others, including advocacy group Free Press, say that broadband investment has actually increased since the net neutrality rules were issued.

For their part, the small providers say the net neutrality rules have not proved harmful. "We have encountered no new additional barriers to investment or deployment as a result of the 2015 decision to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and have long supported network neutrality as a core principle for the deployment of networks for the American public to access the Internet," they write in a letter to the FCC.

The companies also suggest that without net neutrality rules, they would be vulnerable to anti-competitive acts by the large national players. "As direct competitors to the biggest cable and telephone companies, we have reservations about any plan at the FCC that seeks to enhance their market power without any meaningful restraints on their ability to monopolize large swaths of the Internet," the companies write.

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which submitted the ISPs' letter to the agency, elaborates that interconnection disputes -- - like the ones that occurred several years ago between Netflix and various broadband providers, and resulted in choppy video streams -- are of particular concern for smaller providers.

"Under the current rules, the FCC can intervene to prevent a major ISP with a vast network from leveraging its massive network size in an anti-competitive way to harm other networks," the EFF writes. "That oversight vanishes if Chairman Pai reclassifies broadband as an 'information service,' which undoubtedly Comcast would appreciate."

Separately, the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga -- a publicly owned electric company that offers Internet service at speeds up to 10 Gbps -- also urged the FCC to maintain the net neutrality rules.

"We oppose any changes that would allow Internet Service Providers to prioritize, slow down, or otherwise discriminate among customers utilizing the internet based on differential pricing or any other criteria," the EPB writes in comments submitted this week.

The company adds: "Allowing Internet Service Providers to charge differential pricing to prioritize web traffic will prevent many new entrepreneurial ventures from being able to compete with deep-pocketed incumbents. This will weaken America’s ability to innovate, reduce the emergence of new competitive options, and cost our nation a rich reservoir for creating new jobs."

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