Amazon, Netflix, and More Pen Angry Letter to FCC on Net Neutrality

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A group of the country’s most powerful tech companies — including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) — have penned a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, asking the organization to throw out a new draft of net neutrality rules that would allow for Internet service providers to charge content providers for the amount of bandwidth their content takes up.

The tech companies and consumer advocates believe that this will end the Web’s productive period of innovation, as smaller startups won’t be able to afford to pay for bandwidth and the Internet will become dominated only by established companies. Internet service providers, of course, are looking forward to a new revenue source. Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), for example, has already forced Netflix to pay for faster streaming speeds for its customers.

The letter, dated May 7, has the tech companies claiming that a threat to net neutrality is a threat to America’s dominance of the technology industry as a whole. “The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth,” the companies wrote. “According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them. If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.”

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn responded to the letter and other complaints in a blog post, saying that more than 100,000 people have reached out to the FCC, asking the agency to do whatever it can to reinstate net neutrality and keep the Internet an open space for everyone. Clyburn said that she sees the D.C. circuit court’s decision to overturn the commission’s net neutrality laws in January “as a unique opportunity for us to take a fresh look and evaluate our policy in light of the many developments that have occurred over the last four years.”

She added: “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.”

At the end of last month, reports started coming out that the FCC was caving on the issue of net neutrality and that the new draft of the laws basically undermined everything that the organization and the idea of an open Internet stood for. Reportedly, the FCC’s new draft will allow content providers to buy faster Internet speeds if such deals are made on “commercially reasonable” terms. Such terms would be determined by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. This is an attempt to make a version of net neutrality that will keep an open Internet monitored by the FCC while allowing companies to adapt to a changing marketplace, which has seen Internet traffic skyrocket.

Companies and consumer advocacy groups spoke out against the rumored changes, prompting FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to fire back against the criticism in a statement to The New York Times, saying: “There is no ‘turnaround in policy.’ The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original open Internet rules, and consistent with the court’s decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.”

Given that an appeals court in Washington, D.C., ruled that the FCC was overstepping its bounds by trying to bar Internet providers from blocking certain kinds of online content or charging the companies that take up the most bandwidth a higher fee at the beginning of the year, it’s uncertain what the organization can do to keep an open Internet if the rules don’t stand up in court. The commission is set to vote on the proposed changes, which have not yet been made public, on May 15.

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