Internet providers have sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the agency not to reclassify broadband as a utility, after reports that Chairman Tom Wheeler had revised his proposal for net neutrality.
The letter maintains that although reclassifying broadband as a utility would give the FCC more regulatory power over Internet providers, it also would stifle innovation and lead to less money invested into broadband networks, ultimately hurting consumers’ Internet experience.
A total of 28 Internet providers from across the United States backed the letter, dated Tuesday, with signatures from their chief executives. Among the companies were AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.
“Such an action would greatly distort the future development of, and investment in, tomorrow’s broadband networks and services,” the companies said.
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The Internet providers said that they want to work toward rules that would secure an open Internet but that reclassification is not the way.
The letter comes after news broke last weekend that Wheeler had revised his proposal for net neutrality, which is scheduled for a commission vote Thursday. In the new draft, Wheeler asks the public to weigh in on whether broadband should be reclassified as a utility, in the same way telephone service is.
If broadband were reclassified, the FCC would have the power to enforce net neutrality, which is the concept that all Internet content should be equally accessible. Under Wheeler’s proposal, Internet providers could potentially strike deals with companies such as Netflix and Amazon to allow their services to be delivered to consumers faster than other companies without similar deals.
Wheeler has said that these deals would be heavily scrutinized by the FCC before receiving approval, but critics worry that such “fast lanes” could make it harder for smaller companies and startups to compete against tech giants.
Free Press, a public-interest group, said that the Internet providers’ arguments against reclassification were “baseless” and “lazy.”
Meanwhile, digital-rights group Public Knowledge said reclassification is needed because Internet providers have shown that they are not truly committed to an open Internet.
“Some (Internet providers) claim that they are pro net neutrality, but when the buck stops they are quick to allow paid prioritization, sponsored data agreements, and other anti competitive measures that discourage competition and innovation on the Web,” Bartees Cox Jr., spokesman for Public Knowledge, said in a statement.
“In a world without reclassification, we inch closer and closer to paid prioritization on the Internet,” he said.
Meanwhile, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee sent a letter to the FCC chairman on Wednesday, asking Wheeler to delay Thursday’s vote on the Internet rules. Noting that an open Internet was a key issue for the state, Inslee said he had strong concerns about the “fast lane” proposal and thought it should be subjected to more open examination and comment.
Information from The Seattle Times staff is included.