The internet has spoken: “Keep Net Neutrality.”
Well, the internet itself didn’t speak but a broad coalition of the internet’s biggest companies, perhaps the biggest single voice of the internet as a whole – the Internet Association – issued a resounding plea this week to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and it’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, who has reportedly vowed to nix a fair and open internet in the U.S.
Pai has already started rolling back Net Neutrality rules to some degree.
“The internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition, and innovation online,” said the IA group, which is a coalition of the biggest internet companies in the world, including Google, Facebook, Amazon, Snap (Snapchat), Etsy, Ebay, Spotify & Pandora, Intuit, NetFlix and many others.
“In other words, existing net neutrality rules should be enforced and kept intact.
“Consumers want and need their internet experience preserved and protected, regardless of the legal or regulatory mechanism,” continued the IA in it’s formal FCC filing and letter. “While IA continues its work to protect consumers by maintaining existing FCC rules, its primary focus is on the end result – meaningful net neutrality rules that withstand the test of time.”
Pai, who opposed the FCC’s Net Neutrality rule when it was adopted in 2015, is the Trump Administration’s new FCC chairman, a former Verizon lobbyist. He has vowed to return the internet in the U.S. to the domination and control of the major telecom companies (internet service providers or ISPs) such as Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others, which would then be free to control internet access and speeds in the U.S. as they please while squeezing as much profit as possible out of the millions of internet users beholden to those companies as the only access to the information superhighway.
Net Neutrality refresher
As a reminder, Net Neutrality is the phrase used to describe an internet to which all users have a fair and equal, if not necessarily free, access.
In the U.S. the concept is based on the FCC (and court) rulings which establish the internet as a public utility and, therefore, subject to government regulation just like other public utilities of electricity, water, telephone, interstate trucking and others.
Regulating the internet as a public utility has the overwhelming support of U.S. consumers.
A common carrier, as defined by the FCC, is any company or entity which provides a telecommunications service to the general public. A contract carrier, on the other hand, provides service to a select number of clients or customers. The Telecommunications Act of 1934 specifically classified the telephone companies, for example, as common carriers. (This may be shocking to some of you but the internet did not exist in 1934.)
Outside the telecommunications industry, airlines and bus companies are considered common carriers. Oil and natural gas pipelines are common carriers. Public utilities – electrical companies and water companies – are common carriers.
Common carriers are those companies and entities which provide a service for the common benefit of the general public. They certainly are entitled to earn revenue in return for their service but the U.S. government regulates how much common carriers can charge the public as a safeguard against price gouging or other public exploitation. It’s a sound, decent, fair system.
When President Obama finally issued in 2014 his position on net neutrality he said exactly what many advocates for a fair and open internet in the U.S. have been advocating for years: ISPs should be classified as common carriers.
“Simply put: No service should be stuck in a ‘slow lane’ because it does not pay a fee,” said Obama at the time. “That kind of gate keeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth.”
The major ISPs have long fought for the opportunity to charge higher prices for higher Internet speeds; to, in essence, create fast lanes and set up tolls booths if consumers want better internet service. The U.S. is the only nation in the world where such a debate is even being considered. The government of most of the world’s nations long ago stepped in to require ISPs to provide Internet at the fastest speeds available. (Brazil adopted an Internet Bill of Rights, guaranteeing every citizen free and unfettered access to the internet – as well as the right to data privacy.)
In fact and simple best-interests-of-all-internet-users, treating the ISPs as common carrier is the only way to ensure the internet using public won’t be exploited and Internet fast lanes won’t be created for the rich at the expense of the public and the greater good. The Internet is a public utility.
If Google, Facebook speak will the FCC listen?
In its letter and meeting with Pai, the dominant internet companies made clear specific points:
- IA supports light-touch rules that protect the open internet. The rules should be ex-ante and enforced by the expert agency, namely the FCC.
- The rules must prohibit BIAS providers from charging for prioritized access.
- The rules should apply regardless of whether a user accesses the internet from a wireline, fixed wireless, or mobile broadband provider.
- Interconnection should not be used as a choke point to artificially slow traffic or extract unreasonable tolls from over-the-top providers.
- Finally, IA also emphasized that the details of any net neutrality framework are important to our members.
- Although IA member companies were not subject to the broadband privacy rulemaking (and are not in an enforcement gap post-CRA) IA members nonetheless viewed this as an important issue for the internet ecosystem.
- IA filed several comments with the Commission throughout the broadband privacy proceeding.
- In those filings:
- IA agreed with the agency’s position that edge providers were not subject to the proposed rules since edge companies were and remain subject to Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) jurisdiction with respect to privacy and data security.
- IA outlined why any continued departure from the FTC’s framework should be grounded exclusively in the regulatory, policy, and economic factors that actually distinguish ISP and edge provider markets.
- The relevant factors include higher financial, legal, and technical market entry barriers as well as high customer switching costs when compared to edge provider markets.
- IA further noted that “edge providers have more limited visibility into online practices and consumer information” than BIAS providers, a conclusion the FTC agreed with in 2012, explaining that BIAS providers are “in a position to develop highly detailed and comprehensive profiles of their customers – and to do so in a manner that may be completely invisible.”