Tech vs the FCC: Silicon Valley’s Heavyweights Fight for Net Neutrality

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A powerful tech lobby has urged the US Federal Communications Commission not to weaken rules on net neutrality–targeting the as-yet unfinished plans of its Republican chairman, Ajit Pai.

The Washington DC-based Internet Association, which represents online giants such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, met with Pai yesterday. It stressed the importance of defending strict net neutrality rules put in place by previous President Barack Obama–and warned against Pai’s proposal that web companies only voluntarily commit to maintaining an open internet.

“The internet industry is uniform in its belief that net neutrality preserves the consumer experience, competition and innovation online,” the group said. “Existing net neutrality rules should be enforced and kept intact.”

Net neutrality, under rules imposed in 2015, prevents internet service providers (ISPs) from manipulating the online market by deliberately speeding up, or slowing down, traffic from specific apps and websites.

Pai has previously called net neutrality a “mistake”, echoing the sentiments of President Donald Trump–who in 2014 complained that it would unfairly affect conservative broadcasters and media outlets. His plan would mean ISPs are only bound by net neutrality laws if they vow to follow them. Pai was previously a lawyer for Verizon, the United States’ largest telecommunications provider.

Pai’s plan has been attacked by figures including politicians, lobby groups and even former head of the FCC Tom Wheeler, who told CNN recently that”It seems to me the lobbyists are winning out over core principles here.”

The Internet Association agrees, and has outlined four key principles it wants to see maintained in the coming years: no unreasonable reconnect fees, rules that span wired and wireless internet; an FCC fully capable of enforcement; and no paid fast lanes.

It is the latter that has spooked the industry the most. And many leaders fear that ISPs could effectively hold tech companies to ransom, either by diminishing the speed at which users experience their sites or apps. Pai’s proposal is due to be released, in full, next month.