Bat­tle lines are drawn in fight over net neu­tral­ity

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - MONEY - By Todd Shields Bloomberg News

WASH­ING­TON — 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 in 2015 by an Obama-era, Demo­crat­i­cled 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.

For broad­band providers, the change would re­move a threat of in­tru­sive rate reg­u­la­tion as FCC author­ity is cut back.

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,” said the In­ter­net As­so­ci­a­tion, a Wash­ing­ton­based trade group with mem­bers in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft, Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google, Net­flix Inc. and Ama­zon.com Inc. 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 the em­bat­tled rules have de­terred broad­band in­vest­ment.

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

ETHAN MILLER/GETTY

FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai is push­ing to gut 2015 net neu­tral­ity rules, a move backed by in­ter­net ser­vice providers.

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