(from BBC News) – More than 100 technology companies have written to the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC), opposing potential changes to net neutrality rules.
The FCC is considering allowing internet service providers (ISPs) to charge content providers to prioritize their traffic.
Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon warn that such a move represents a “grave threat to the internet.”
One FCC commissioner has called for a delay to the vote, which is scheduled for May 15.
Net neutrality – the premise that all internet traffic should be treated equally – has been a cornerstone of the web for many years. But with the growth of bandwidth-hungry services such as Netflix, ISPs have increasingly asked for the right to charge a fee for carrying such data at high speed on their networks.
[Consumer advocates are worried the rules would ultimately allow Internet companies such as Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications Inc to create “fast lanes” on the Web for traffic of content companies that pay up, potentially shutting out poorer newcomers.]
A landmark court case in February, in which Verizon successfully challenged the FCC’s right to stop it charging such fees, pushed the regulator [the FCC] into a major rethink of its rules. [The court ruled that the FCC had no authority to regulate ISPs – it only has the authority to regulate telecommunications companies. The FCC is unable to regulate ISPs in the same way as telecoms service providers, as they’re not considered to be public utilities. Public utilities are businesses that provide the public with necessities, such as water, electricity, natural gas, and telephone and telegraph communication. These companies (such as an electric company) that provide a public service must follow special rules made by the government.]
Rather than [supporting] the principle of net neutrality, leaked reports suggest the FCC will allow ISPs to strike such deals as long as they act “in a commercially reasonable manner.”
In the letter, tech companies, ranging from three-person start-ups to the biggest names on the web, made clear their dismay at the feared U-turn.
“We write to express our support for a free and open internet,” it said. “The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination.
“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.”
The letter urged the commission to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the internet remains an open platform.”
More than a million people have signed petitions to the FCC calling for it to abandon plans to allow a tiered internet. [Which would, for example, allow Netflix to pay the ISP more to provide faster streaming speeds to you than Hulu does.]
A handful of protesters have gathered outside FCC headquarters in Washington, promising to camp there until the 15 May vote.
And a group of net firms and civil liberty groups have called on the FCC to reclassify broadband companies as “telecommunication services,” which would give it the authority to impose net-neutrality rules on them.
One of the FCC’s four commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel, has called for the vote to be delayed by at least a month.
She said: “Rushing headlong into a rulemaking next week fails to respect the public response”.
But an FCC spokesman said the vote would go ahead as planned.
“Moving forward will allow the American people to review and comment on the proposed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to putting rules on the books to protect consumers and entrepreneurs online,” he added.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from the BBC. Visit the website at bbc .co.uk.
1. What the the role/purpose of the FCC? (What does the FCC do?)
2. Explain the difference between ISPs and content providers and name a few companies that provide each of these services.
3. What is net neutrality?
4. Why are ISPs asking the FCC for the right to charge a content provider a fee for carrying certain types of content (streaming movies…)?
5. a) What concerns do content companies have with the FCC giving the OK to a tiered internet?
b) Why do they (and civil liberty groups) want the FCC to reclassify broadband companies as “telecommunication” companies?
6. Whether the ISPs or content providers win, any way you look at it, in the end the consumer will wind up paying more for faster service. What do you think: should the FCC permit ISPs to charge more to certain content providers? Will this squeeze out the little guy? Would preventing the ISPs from doing so infringe on their rights?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the U.S. government, overseen by Congress to regulate interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, D.C. and U.S. territories. It does the following:
- Promoting competition, innovation and investment in broadband services and facilities
- Supporting the nation’s economy by ensuring an appropriate competitive framework for the unfolding of the communications revolution
- Encouraging the highest and best use of spectrum domestically and internationally
- Revising media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism
- Providing leadership in strengthening the defense of the nation’s communications infrastructure
The agency is directed by five commissioners who are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The president also selects one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners can be of the same political party at any given time and none can have a financial interest in any commission-related business. All commissioners, including the chairman, have five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term.
The FCC is funded entirely by regulatory fees. It had an estimated fiscal-2011 budget of $335.8 million and a proposed fiscal-2012 budget of $354.2 million.
The FCC has 1,898 federal employees. (from the FCC website and wikipedia)
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