FCC's First Action Nears, More Opposition to New "Net Neutrality" Rules Appears
Earlier this week, a large coalition of internet companies released an open letter to the Federal Communications Commission warning that its proposal for new Open Internet rules, ostensibly meant to protect net neutrality, actually "represents a grave threat to the Internet." Now a large coalition of interest groups, including some prominent Latino organizations, has done the same.
In an open letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Obama, a coalition of civil rights, minority, and media interest groups expressed their support for "a truly free and open Internet," while strongly urging the FCC to "reconsider and abandon efforts to adopt rules that would harm—rather than preserve—net neutrality."
The letter was signed by some major organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Nation and MoveOn.org, along with Latino advocacy groups like the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and the National Hispanic Media Coalition and dozens of others.
In January, a federal appeals court threw out the FCC's 2010 "Open Internet" rules, because the agency never correctly classified broadband providers as "common carriers" (utilities like electricity or land line phones), and thus there was no legal ground for the FCC to enforce the rules. Technically the FCC could just reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) and reinforce the original 2010 rules. But Wheeler has taken the agency in a different direction, reportedly drawing up a proposal that would create a "fast lane" option, essentially allowing ISPs to strike deals with internet companies to pay for better service. The coalition of advocacy groups opposes this new incarnation of the FCC's Open Internet:
"Now, instead of restoring this important principle of nondiscrimination, the Commission's proposal would make things even worse. It would reportedly propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers (ISPs) to discriminate both technically and financially against fledgling online companies, independent media outlets, nonprofit organizations and anyone else with a website. These policies would create troubling incentives for ISPs to create 'artificial scarcity' to extract new sources of revenue. The result will be a two-tiered Internet: a fast lane for those willing or able to pay for it, and a dirt road for the rest of us."
The open letter went on to quote President Obama and Wheeler's previous statements in support of net neutrality, and added, "Internet service providers should not be in the business of picking winners and losers online. But the proposal the FCC is currently considering gives ISPs the power to do exactly that, which is why it must be abandoned."
There has been an influx of criticism about the FCC's new Open Internet proposal, which hasn't even been officially released yet—the FCC will meet on Thursday, May 15 to hold a preliminary vote, at which time the draft Open Internet rules will be released to the public. Besides the recent open letter by interest groups, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix, and dozens of other internet companies expressed their disapproval earlier in the week as well.
On top of that, (via BGR) the FCC's consumer hotline has received such an influx of calls from individuals concerned about net neutrality that the main automated phone message is now asking callers to write an email, instead, if they're calling about the controversial Open Internet rules. Even two of the FCC's own Commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, have publically expressed concerns over the issue. And Rosenworcel even recommended that Wheeler slow down the approval process, since there's been such a "torrent of public response"—a move that the National Hispanic Media Coalition applauded.
Wheeler, for his part, has responded to the public outcry by insisting that he's still on the side of net neutrality, saying in a public letter on Friday (via ReCode), "if someone acts to divide the internet between 'haves' and 'have nots,' I will use every power at our disposal to stop it, including Title II," referring to the section of the Communications Act that would allow the FCC to designate ISPs as common carriers.
Wheeler also argued that he personally learned how important net neutrality is from his former business experiences, before he was appointed to government work:
"As an entrepreneur who started companies that offered new programs and services to cable companies, I was subject to being blocked form access to cable networks. It is an experience that made me especially wary of the power of closed networks to innovate on their own agenda to the detriment of small entrepreneurs."
Of course, in Wheeler's pre-government experience, he also held a position as the president of the nation's top cable industry association and was the CEO of the most prominent U.S. wireless industry trade group (both of which he was a celebrated lobbyist for), so take Wheeler's personal appeal with a grain of salt.
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