In­ter­net neu­tral­ity back­ers weigh in

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM -

TODD SHIELDS

Mi­crosoft Corp. and Google pleaded with U.S. reg­u­la­tors on Mon­day to pre­serve strong net neu­tral­ity rules, while AT&T and Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions backed weak­ened over­sight and said Congress should set­tle the is­sue that’s burned for more than a decade.

The tech pil­lars and the broad­band providers are try­ing to sway the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, which is mov­ing to­ward gut­ting rules against in­ter­fer­ing with Web traf­fic. Mon­day was a dead­line for com­ments on the FCC pro­posal ad­vanced by Repub­li­can Chair­man Ajit Pai en­ti­tled “Restor­ing In­ter­net Free­dom,” which al­ready has at­tracted more than 8 mil­lion com­ments.

The rules passed by an Obama-era, Demo­cratic-led FCC bar broad­band providers from block­ing or slow­ing data — to hin­der ri­vals, for in­stance, or to fa­vor af­fil­i­ated ser­vices — and from set­ting up “fast lanes” that would cost more. Un­der Pai’s pro­posal an­nounced in April, the FCC would end its claim to strong le­gal author­ity to en­force the rules, and the chair­man asked whether the FCC should re­tain the

● ban on paid fast lanes.

For broad­band providers, the change would re­move a threat of in­tru­sive rate reg­u­la­tion as FCC author­ity is cut back. If Congress passed a law that would in­su­late net neu­tral­ity rules from chang­ing as par­ti­san con­trol of the FCC switches fol­low­ing elec­tions.

Web-based com­pa­nies see peril in re­lax­ing rules that they say pro­tect con­sumers’ abil­ity “to en­joy the un­fet­tered abil­ity to ac­cess the law­ful con­tent of

their choice,” the In­ter­net As­so­ci­a­tion, a Wash­ing­ton-based trade group with mem­bers in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft, Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google, Net­flix Inc. and Ama­zon.com Inc. said in a fil­ing Mon­day. Un­do­ing the rules “would in­tro­duce sig­nif­i­cant un­cer­tainty and would threaten the vir­tu­ous cir­cle of in­no­va­tion” that’s seen broad­band ser­vices boom.

In­ter­net ser­vice providers see the is­sue dif­fer­ently, and ar­gue that the em­bat­tled rules have de­terred broad­band in­vest­ment.

Rules should re­turn to the lighter-touch frame­work that

ex­isted be­fore the cur­rent rules were set in 2015 “in or­der for the U.S. to re­tain its lead­ing role in shap­ing and ben­e­fit­ing from the In­ter­net,” UST­ele­com, a trade group with mem­bers in­clud­ing AT&T and Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc., said in a sum­mary of its com­ments Mon­day to the FCC. “A last­ing con­gres­sional so­lu­tion is needed, but in the in­terim, the com­mis­sion must undo the harm.”

The cur­rent FCC rules in­clude “the frame­work for price reg­u­la­tion — a toxic ap­proach if the goal is to en­cour­age in­vest­ment,” Ver­i­zon said.

Re­vert­ing to a “long­stand­ing, light-touch” ap­proach “will not leave con­sumers un­pro­tected.”

At top ca­ble provider Com­cast, “we sup­port the FCC’s re­turn to a light-touch reg­u­la­tory frame­work,” David Co­hen, se­nior ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, said in a blog post out­lin­ing the com­pany’s FCC fil­ing. “We are, and will re­main, com­mit­ted to the core tenets of a free and open In­ter­net.”

Co­hen called for Congress to act to spare con­sumers a “never-end­ing game of reg­u­la­tory ping pong” as rules

change with pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Prospects ap­pear “dim” for a so­lu­tion from Congress, Matthew Schet­ten­helm, a Bloomberg In­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst, said in a July 13 note. Repub­li­cans likely will seek lim­its on FCC power, which Democrats will re­sist in or­der to pre­serve the agency’s flex­i­bil­ity to ad­dress fu­ture prob­lems, Schet­ten­helm said.

Mark Wig­field, an FCC spokesman, de­clined to com­ment. Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, when asked if Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­lieves net neu­tral­ity

is im­por­tant, replied that “the FCC is an in­de­pen­dent agency” and said he hasn’t dis­cussed the is­sue with the pres­i­dent.

At­tor­neys gen­eral of the District of Columbia and 12 states sup­ported the ex­ist­ing rules in a fil­ing Mon­day. If the rules were to be re­pealed, an In­ter­net ser­vice provider could force web con­tent providers to pay fees for faster speeds, lim­it­ing con­sumers’ abil­ity to ac­cess the In­ter­net con­tent of their choice, Cal­i­for­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra said in a news re­lease.

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