Neutrality Repeal Will Harm Businesses And Consumers, Silicon Valley Warns

Silicon Valley's largest companies are urging the Federal Communications Commission to reject Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to gut the net neutrality rules.

"Weakening existing net neutrality rules or denying them a solid legal foundation will harm consumers and innovators alike," the trade group Internet Association -- which includes Google, Facebook, Amazon, Airbnb and other tech companies -- says in comments filed today with the FCC. "Now is not the time to create uncertainty in the most robust segment of the economy."

The 2015 net neutrality order classified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier rules on Internet service providers. The regulations include three "bright-line" prohibitions: a ban on throttling or blocking content, and on charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The rules also include a "general conduct" standard that broadly prohibits Internet service providers from unreasonably impeding the ability of consumers and content providers to reach each other.

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Earlier this year, Pai put forward a proposal to reclassify broadband access as an "information" service. If the FCC does so, it arguably will lose the authority to enforce other net neutrality principles, including prohibitions against throttling, blocking and paid fast lanes. That's because a federal appellate court ruled in 2014 that the FCC has no authority to require providers of information services to follow common carrier principles.

Pai contends that the 2015 rules spurred a drop in captial investment by networks. But other groups dispute that claim.

The Internet Association writes that there is no evidence that broadband carriers have curbed investment in the last two years. But the group also says that investment by carriers "is only part of the picture." The other part is investment by the so-called "edge providers" -- like search engines, social networking platforms and online retailers -- that offer content, products and services to consumers.

"A free and open Internet benefits the entire ecosystem -- ISPs who benefit from greater demand for their services from consumers, edge providers and startups who innovate knowing that their services will reach their customers without interference from ISPs acting as gatekeepers, and most of all consumers and small businesses who benefit from the wide range of innovative services available through the broadband ecosystem," the Internet Association writes.

The Internet Association also argues in favor of retaining the rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritziation. The group says that authorizing paid fast lanes would allow broadband providers to discriminate against over-the-top competitors, like Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.

"Allowing paid prioritization would in effect result in the 'cable-ization' of the Internet, in which edge providers (like creators of video programming in the cable context) would have to negotiate carriage deals on ISP networks in order to reach consumers effectively," the Internet Association writes.

The trade group Digital Content Next -- which represents online publishers including the New York Times, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Hearst and Gannett -- said it supports prohibitions against blocking or throttling.

That group also said that paid prioritization "raises serious concerns" -- particularly if broadband carriers give their own material advantageous treatment.

"Discriminatory paid prioritization deals have the potential to inflict long-term damage on competition and, ultimately, to limit the diversity and quality of content available to consumers," the group writes in its comments to the FCC.

Many Internet service providers support Pai's proposal and are urging the FCC to reclassify broadband as an information service -- which would make it subject to fewer regulations than as a telecommunications service.

Comcast, for one, says in its comments that it supports open Internet principles, and that it won't block or throttle content, or engage in "anticompetitive paid prioritization."

"Comcast has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to the core tenets of the open Internet," the company writes. "At the same time, in protecting Internet openness going forward, the Commission should avoid subjecting the broadband industry to onerous utility-style regulation."

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