Reversing the net neutrality rules will allow broadband providers to "rip the soul out of the Internet," a broad consortium of international groups says in a new letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai.
"We are deeply concerned that the proposed regulatory changes to net neutrality will undermine free speech and competition on the Internet," more than 200 companies and organizations say in the letter.
"Despite assurances to the contrary, the changes proposed by the FCC would remove the only existing legal foundation strong enough to ensure the United States will continue to honor the principle of net neutrality." Signatories include the organizations Access Now, European Digital Rights and the search engine StartPage.com.
The groups' letter comes as the FCC considers a proposal to gut the net neutrality rules, which were passed in 2015 by a 3-2 vote. Those rules reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier regulations on broadband providers, including bans on blocking or throttling service and charging content companies higher fees for faster delivery.
The regulations are supported by consumer advocates and many Silicon Valley companies, who argue that Internet service providers shouldn't be able to serve as gatekeepers to the web. But Internet service providers argue that they shouldn't be subject to utility-style regulations.
Pai, who opposed the rules in 2015, recently proposed rolling them back by reclassifying broadband as an "information" service. If the FCC does so, it may also lose the authority to enforce the other regulations, including the bans on blocking or throttling service and paid fast lanes.
The international organizations warn that reversing the rules would give broadband providers "new powers to control the Internet."
"These changes will allow US Internet access providers to demand payment from online services for the right to have privileged access to that provider’s customer base," the letter states. "This will fragment the market, destroy economies of scale, reduce incentives for innovation, undermine social movements and rip the soul out of the Internet."
The FCC hasn't yet announced when it will vote on the possible rollback.