Google, Facebook, Netflix Make Their Official Case for Net Neutrality

The FCC is nearing the deadline for the first round of comments on the controversial proposal.

A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California.  
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
July 14, 2014, 2 a.m.

The lob­by­ing group for the world’s largest In­ter­net com­pan­ies made its of­fi­cial case for broad net neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions in a fil­ing Monday.

Broad­band ac­cess pro­viders have the tech­nic­al abil­ity and the fin­an­cial in­cent­ive to clog In­ter­net traffic and ex­tort tolls from Web com­pan­ies, the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation wrote in a com­ment to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion.

The group, which rep­res­ents Google, Face­book, Net­flix, Amazon, and oth­ers, said broad­band pro­viders could turn the In­ter­net in­to “a pay-for-pri­or­ity plat­form more closely re­sem­bling cable tele­vi­sion than today’s In­ter­net.”

“The Com­mis­sion must act to pro­tect its open and neut­ral ar­chi­tec­ture, which is the force be­hind the In­ter­net’s suc­cess,” the group ar­gued.

The FCC first en­acted net neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions in 2010, but a fed­er­al court struck them down earli­er this year. The agency is now try­ing to re-work the rules in a way that can sur­vive fu­ture court chal­lenges.

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FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er put for­ward a pro­pos­al in May that promp­ted a massive pub­lic back­lash be­cause it would al­low broad­band pro­viders to charge web­sites for faster ser­vice as long as the ar­range­ments are “com­mer­cially reas­on­able.”

In its fil­ing, the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation ar­gued that Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al would un­der­mine “the In­ter­net’s level play­ing field.”

“It shifts the bal­ance from the con­sumers’ free­dom of choice to the broad­band In­ter­net ac­cess pro­viders’ gate­keep­ing de­cisions,” the group wrote.

In­stead, the FCC should en­act “simple, light-touch rules” to ban pro­viders from block­ing or dis­crim­in­at­ing against any In­ter­net traffic, the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation wrote.

The group urged the FCC to ap­ply those rules to both cel­lu­lar net­works and wired broad­band con­nec­tions. The FCC’s old net neut­ral­ity rules ap­plied only to wire­line broad­band net­works, but the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation ar­gued that with so many people now ac­cess­ing the In­ter­net on their smart­phones, the agency should ab­ol­ish that dis­tinc­tion.

The FCC should also reg­u­late the in­ter­con­nec­tion points on the In­ter­net’s back­bone to en­sure pro­viders are not in­ten­tion­ally de­grad­ing traffic, the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation said. The old rules only con­trolled how pro­viders had to handle traffic once it was on their net­works. But in re­cent months, Ve­r­i­zon and Net­flix have ac­cused each oth­er of clog­ging in­ter­con­nec­tion points, res­ult­ing in long buf­fer­ing times and grainy videos for users.

The group did not say wheth­er the FCC should re­clas­si­fy In­ter­net pro­viders as “com­mon car­ri­er” util­it­ies, a move that some lib­er­als say is ne­ces­sary to put the net neut­ral­ity rules on firm leg­al ground. Util­ity-style reg­u­la­tion would lead to a polit­ic­al battle with Re­pub­lic­ans and In­ter­net pro­viders, who claim it would stifle in­vest­ment.

The FCC has re­ceived more than 647,000 pub­lic com­ments on Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al. Oth­er ma­jor com­pan­ies and as­so­ci­ations are ex­pec­ted to file be­fore the dead­line for the first round of com­ments on Tues­day. Google and the oth­er In­ter­net gi­ants may choose to file their own sep­ar­ate com­ments in ad­di­tion to the fil­ing from the In­ter­net As­so­ci­ation.

The pub­lic can reply to the first round of com­ments un­til Sept. 10. The FCC will then have to de­cide what fi­nal reg­u­la­tions to en­act.

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