Tech Companies Urge Visitors To Endorse Net Neutrality Rules

Many of Silicon Valley's largest businesses joined with net neutrality advocates on Wednesday in an effort to rally public opposition to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to roll back the net neutrality rules.

Companies like Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, Google and GoDaddy publicly expressed support for the FCC's 2015 net neutrality order, which reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier restrictions on providers. Some companies, including Netflix and GoDaddy, used space on their homepages to flag the issue, while others, like Facebook and Google, buried their messages in blog posts.

Groups like the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation also ran homepage ads urging visitors to support net neutrality.

Among other rules, the FCC's 2015 regulations prohibit providers from throttling or blocking material, and prohibit them from charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.

Pai, who voted against the net neutrality order, recently unveiled a proposal to gut the regulations by reclassifying broadband as an "information" service. If the agency does so, it may no longer have the authority to prohibit providers from throttling or blocking traffic, and from engaging in paid prioritization. That's because a federal appellate court said in 2014 that the FCC can't impose those kinds of common-carrier rules on providers of "information" services.

Broadband provider AT&T -- which is challenging the 2015 rules in court -- publicly declared it was joining Wednesday's "Day of Action" protests. But while the company said it agreed that carriers shouldn't block or throttle traffic, it also issued a public statement condemning the centerpiece of the rules: the classification of broadband as a utility service.

"Unfortunately, in 2015, then-FCC Chairman [Tom] Wheeler abandoned this carefully crafted framework and instead decided to subject broadband service to an 80-year-old law designed to set rates in the rotary-dial-telephone era," company executive Bob Quinn wrote on the company's blog. "Saddling modern broadband infrastructure and investment decisions with heavy-handed, outdated telephone regulations creates an environment of market uncertainty that does little to advance internet openness."

The telecom's attempt to position itself as a net-neutrality defender was met with derision from some industry observers like BroadbandReports. "AT&T supports net neutrality in much the way a serial drunk driver supports tougher DUI laws, or a bank robber supports tougher locks. As in: they don't," the site wrote.

AT&T added that it wants Congress to pass legislation that would govern net neutrality questions. Comcast likewise insists in a blog post that it supports net neutrality, but said that it also opposes the decision to reclassify broadband as a utility service.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat who voted in favor of the 2015 rules, reiterated her support for them on Wednesday: "Today I stand with those who believe that a free and open internet is a foundational principle of our democracy," she stated. "Its benefits can be felt across our economy and around the globe."

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