The 120-day window established by the Federal Communication Commission earlier this year to hear comments from the public concerning its open internet proposal is about to close, and web giants are making a last minute plea to protect net neutrality.
On Monday this week, a trade group representing the interests of Google, Twitter, Netflix and others filed with the United States FCC a 25-page statement asking federal regulators to consider the consequences of implementing plans that, according to opponents, would crush the concept of net neutrality.
In January, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals remanded portions of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, in turn eliminating all legally enforceable rules ensuring internet openness. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler responded with a proposal in early February, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet, but it contains language that critics say would, if approved, allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the power to preferentially treat some web content over another as long as it could be considered “commercially reasonable.”
The FCC signed-off on Wheeler’s draft, but not without first establishing a 120-day window to receive comments. That period will now officially close on Tuesday this week, and on Monday the DC-based Internet Association group filed a request in which they urge the agency “to adopt simple, light-touch rules to ensure that the internet remains open, dynamic and spontaneous.”
Literally tens of thousands of people have petitioned the FCC already, and a plea from comedian John Oliver last month actually caused the agency’s website to go offline due to an overwhelming number of filings being made. Along with many of those postings, the statement from Monday by the Internet Association and signed by its president and CEO, Michael Berkerman, warns that the proposed rules as written by Chairman Wheeler could open the door for ISPs to favor some content creators and distributors over others, diminishing competitiveness in the online marketplace and making it more difficult for new, fringe or underfunded websites, products, services, ideas and essentially anything that exists on the digital realm from finding an audience.
“The internet faces many challenges. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, building capacity in underserved regions, threats from governments seeking to limit speech on the internet, and proposals by governments to replace the existing multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance with government regulation of the internet,” Beckerman wrote. “And yes, the internet is threatened by broadband Internet access providers who would turn the open, best-efforts Internet into a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today’s Internet.”
As an alternative, the trade group wants the commission to consider rules that would “subject broadband Internet access providers to nondiscrimination, no-blocking and robust transparency requirements,” in hopes of codifying a way to “fuel further economic growth, innovation and democratic values” without putting ISPs in charge of what content is delivered and how.
“The adoption of simple, light-touch rules addressing these dangers serves a three-fold purpose: maintain an open Internet; mitigate broadband Internet access providers’ incentives to discriminate against and block content; and avoid disrupting the delicate balance that stakeholders have already established,” Beckerman continues. “Unfortunately, the ‘commercially reasonable’ standard proposed in the Open Internet NPRM would not achieve these goals. Instead, it proposes a difficult to enforce, multi-factor framework that is not focused on the goals of broadband deployment and adoption; that provides insufficient business certainty for broadband Internet access providers or online applications and services; and that could lead to overreaching regulatory intervention by the Commission.”
The FCC is expected to close the window with regards to receiving comments on Wheeler’s proposal this Tuesday, but Berkerman told Reuters last week that the Internet Association, and presumably other like-minded open web advocates, aren’t going to give up their fight anytime soon.
"If it hurts competition, if it hurts consumers, if it hurts innovation, I'm against it and we're not going to tolerate it,” he said.
Meanwhile, administrators at Reddit.com have announced that they are filing an official comment with the FCC advocating for net neutrality, and want users of the website to submit statements of their own ahead of Tuesday.