Numerous online companies this week were posting calls on their sites for action to stop the rollback of net-neutrality rules. But the biggest tech companies, which in the past played a leading role in supporting the rules, have become less vocal.
Protests to preserve net neutrality, or rules that ensure equal access to the internet, migrated online Tuesday, with numerous online companies posting calls on their sites for action to stop a vote later this week.
Reddit, Etsy and Kickstarter were among the sites warning that the proposal at the Federal Communications Commission to roll back net-neutrality rules would fundamentally change the way the internet is experienced.
Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, cleared its entire home screen for a sparse white-screen reading “Defend Net Neutrality” in large letters. Reddit, the popular online message board, pushed in multiple ways on its site for keeping the rules, including a pop-up box on its home screen.
But the online protests also highlighted how the biggest tech companies, such as Facebook and Google, have taken a back seat in the debate about protecting net neutrality, rules that bar internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing sites or for charging people or companies for faster speeds of particular sites. For the most part, the large tech companies did not engage in the protest Tuesday. In the past, the companies have played a leading role in supporting the rules.
Harold Feld, a senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group that supports net neutrality, said the biggest tech companies were less vocal because they were facing more regulatory battles than in past years. Social-media sites have been criticized for allowing foreign actors to interfere in the presidential election of 2016. The biggest tech companies also face complaints from some lawmakers that they have become too large and powerful.
“First, the major tech companies are very aware that Washington has turned hostile,” Feld said. “In this environment, the big tech companies try to keep a low profile and play defense rather than take positions that draw attention.
Here is how several of the biggest companies have handled the issue in recent months.
• Microsoft sent a 23-page letter to the commission in July outlining the company’s argument that the commission should not change its stance on net neutrality. “Now is not the time for the commission to abandon 15 years of progress toward protecting the economic future of our country,” the letter said. “Now is not the time for the commission to abandon its open internet rules.” The company has otherwise kept a relatively low profile on the issue.
On Nov. 28, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, tweeted that “Microsoft believes in preserving the open internet & opposes weakening net-neutrality protections.”
• Amazon representatives have been lobbying FCC commissioners and staff in person, with visits Nov. 29 and Dec. 6. The latter included a meeting between Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman, and Darren Achord, an Amazon senior public-policy manager. “During the meetings, we stated that Amazon has long supported net-neutrality protections to ensure our customers can enjoy an open internet, and we emphasized that the company remains committed to that position,” Gerard Waldron, a lawyer who represents Amazon and participated in the meeting, wrote in an account filed with the FCC.
“We stressed the need for enforceable, bright-line rules to protect the open internet and guard against anti-consumer and anti-competitive activities,” he wrote, adding that Amazon opposed the commission’s proposed change.
• Google has kept a pretty low profile in the recent net-neutrality debate. The company issued a statement last month when the proposed changes were announced, saying that the current rules were “working well” and that it was “disappointed” by the new proposal.
But for the most part, the company has been working within the Internet Association, an industry group that includes Facebook, Amazon and other large online companies.
• Apple is a newcomer to the net-neutrality debate. It made its first filing to the FCC on the issue in August. It espoused a position largely in line with other internet giants, arguing against the creation of fast lanes and emphasizing the importance of an open internet.