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No Fast Lanes: What the Tech Industry Just Told the FCC About Net Neutrality

April 12, 2017, 2:26 PM UTC

As the chairman of the FCC makes plans to tear up the Internet policy known as net neutrality, Silicon Valley is beginning to voice its displeasure.

After a Tuesday meeting with Pai, the Internet Association—a lobby group representing the likes of Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Microsoft—shared a summary of its positions.

According to the document, the tech industry wants the FCC to forbid Internet service providers from using “choke point[s]” to extract fees from websites or to slow down certain sites. The industry also wants the agency to prohibit companies like Comcast or Verizon to forbid “prioritized access,” or what are commonly known as “fast lanes” for favored websites.

Currently, such practices are prohibited due to a landmark 2015 ruling by the FCC, known as the Open Internet Order, which made net neutrality (barring Internet companies from favoring some websites over others) the law of the land. Pai, however, shares the view of the telecom industry that the order is an unreasonable constraint on business and has vowed to scrap it.

In its meeting with Pai, though, the Internet Association rejected the notion that net neutrality is bad for business, and pointed out a court has found it to be lawful.

“The [Open Internet] Order is working well and has been upheld by a DC Circuit panel. Further, IA preliminary economic research suggests that the OI Order did not have a negative impact on broadband internet access service (BIAS) investment,” the document states, adding that it favors a “light touch” when it comes to regulation.
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It’s unclear if any of the comments will resonate with Pai, who has suggested replacing the net neutrality rules with voluntary commitments on the part of Internet providers, and relying on a different agency—the Federal Trade Commission—to oversee abuses. Critics are skeptical of the plan, arguing voluntary arrangements will be ineffective, and noting the FTC has weaker enforcement powers than the FCC.
Pai has indicated the FCC could place a rollback of the net neutrality rules on its monthly agenda in May. This would trigger a months-long comment period that could give rise to a populist movement in support of the rules, which is what occurred when net neutrality was last a high-profile public issue in 2014.
But Pai, who took up the post as chairman in February, may not be fazed by a public outcry. Pai has long been a staunch opponent of net neutrality, and currently has the support of both President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress. And in an apparent effort to bolster his own political standing, Pai has been announcing a series of FCC actions—including a campaign against robo-calls and support for a ban on phone calls during air travel—that are likely to prove popular with the public.
The Internet Association filing also describes the group’s position on a smattering of other issues. These include bland support for a decision by Congress to scrap planned FCC privacy rules, and concern over class actions targeting unauthorized text message campaigns.