Giants of Tech Lobbying Unite to Kill FCC's Plan to Allow Internet Tolls
May 8, 2014 10:40 PM
Meanwhile, ISPs and wireless providers are apathetic or even moderately opposed to the plan, as well
If you thought things couldn't get worse for
Thomas "Tom" E. Wheeler
, the lobbyist-turned Chairman of the
U.S. Federal Communications Commission
(FCC), a letter from powerful influence brokers sent him a stern message to abandon course with his controversial new plan.
I. Tainted Net Neutrality -- Before They Ran to You, Now They Run From You
The letter represents the first time that the internet's top service firms have stood united against Chairman Wheeler's plan to allow internet service providers and wireless service operators segregate the internet into "fast lanes" and normal speed (or slow?) connections.
New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is not off to a good start so far. [Image Source: Reuters]
Dear Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, Pai, and O’Reilly:
We write to express our support for a free and open internet. Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.
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.
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.
Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low.
Such rules are essential for the future of the Internet. This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets
The letter was signed by many of the tech industry's
top players in Congressional lobbying
, including Google Inc. (
) (#3 in lobbying), Microsoft Corp. (
) (#4), Facebook, Inc. (
) (#5), Amazon.com, Inc. (
[Image Source: DailyTech/Tiffany Kaiser]
There were also a number of other large/influential publicly held tech firms, including Netflix, Inc. (
), eBay, Inc. (
), Twitter (
), and Yahoo! Inc. (
). Its top privately held backers include Tumblr, Kickstarter, Reddit, 4Chan, Imgur, Digg, and DuckDuckGo. There was also an active ensemble of open source players including the Mozilla Foundation and GitHub.
Of the names that one might expect to appear on such a letter, the only major absence was Apple, Inc. (
Even without Apple it appears that there's a lot of money opposing the rules, which were scheduled to be officially announced May 15.
II. The Kiss of Death
And what makes things truly dire for Mr. Wheeler's plan is that there aren’t any clear big money backers of it -- a virtual death sentence for a plan in Washington D.C. these days, when there's money in opposition of a rule.
Blowback for the FCC Chairman was almost instantaneous after he circulated a memo allegedly outlining his plan to allow the internet to become a series of toll roads during the last week of April. You knew things were looking dire when two players who you would expect to be the biggest supporters of such plan -- U.S. President Barack Obama (D) and U.S. telecoms were tight lipped or hinted at disdain for the plan as it was lambasted by internet activists.
Big telecoms were irate that their former lobbyist ally refused to allow them to steamroll content competitors off the internet. [Image Source: Fierce Wireless Seminar via Wired]
It turns out that the telecom industry did look the gift horse in the mouth and it didn't like what it saw. The plan in question would reportedly ban ISP or wireless provider blacklisting of legal websites and web service or throttling/slowing to give an ISP/wireless provider's in-house service an anti-competitive advantage. Those were both much desired features for ISPs like Comcast Corp. (
) and Verizon Communications Inc. (
) who were
looking to dabble
the content/internet service business
Even if Mr. Wheeler delivered them one of the biggest allowances they had been hoping for to boost profits, the fact that that gift wrapped package was reportedly cloaked in these modest pro-net neutrality terms was enough to sour telecoms to the sweet surprise underneath. Telecoms didn't want Mr. Wheeler to
net neutrality; they wanted him to kill it dead.
Comcast recently forced Netflix to pay big tolls via throttling, Netflix plans to pass these cost on to new subscribers. [Image Source: Mashable]
We might get some sort of surprise mid-month given that Mr. Wheeler still has time to swallow his pride and try to rework his universally despised proposal.
Or he could simply announce nothing. But as they say failing to plan is planning to fail. With Comcast already
pay heavy tolls
, and with Netflix
passing on those costs to consumers
time is running out
for net neutrality's supporters.
Vox Media [PDF]
"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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