More than 100 prominent Internet companies and two of the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission have expressed doubts about FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to give network providers more latitude to charge extra for faster data delivery.
When Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, was nominated to head the FCC last year, there was concern about whether he would "buck his former corporate clients and stand up for the public interest." Since he proposed new rules last month weakening net neutrality by allowing network service providers to charge extra for accelerated data delivery, Internet companies and advocacy groups have been sounding the alarm.
The rule change was proposed because in January a federal court for the second time struck down the FCC's 2010 blocking and non-discrimination framework. The problem was that the FCC was attempting to regulate Internet providers under common carrier rules without actually declaring them to be utilities, a classification that would have broad consequences.
[Is lack of competition a problem in the net neutrality debate? Read Net Neutrality Debate Driven By Fear Of Change.]
Wheeler has said he remains open to considering a reclassification of broadband access as a telecommunications service.
In a letter published on Wednesday, Amazon, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and other large Internet companies urged the FCC to guard against discriminatory pricing.
"Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission's rules should protect users and Internet companies on fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for internet services more transparent," the letter says. "The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low."
Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel issued statements on Thursday expressing reservations about Wheeler's proposed rules.
"There is no doubt that preserving and maintaining a free and open Internet is fundamental to the core values of our democratic society, and I have an unwavering commitment to its independence," said Cyburn.
Rosenworcel, in remarks delivered at a library conference, called for a delay of at least a month before Wheeler's proposal is considered, to allow for additional public input. The FCC presently plans to vote on the proposal May 15th.
Level 3 Communications, a global network service provider, in March filed a statement with the FCC urging the agency to make sure its rules cover the interconnections between network service providers, which can be turned into toll-generating bottlenecks without oversight. The agency's rules, Level 3 said, should allow ISPs "to charge other providers for services they provide, but they may not charge fees simply for the privilege of accessing that ISP's customers."
Last month, the European Parliament voted to protect net neutrality in a series of telecom reforms. The proposal, which rejects pay-for-performance pricing, is slated to be reviewed later this year by the Council of the European Union before it is finalized and passed into law.
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