Two weeks after the Washington Post reported that the FCC was considering allowing internet service providers to charge websites extra for faster connections to their customers, nearly 150 Silicon Valley companies including Facebook and Google have written a letter in protest.
“[T]he 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,” the companies wrote in a letter dated May 7. “[T]his represents a grave threat to the Internet.“
The FCC’s regulations are part of the broader debate over “net neutrality,” the notion that ISPs like Comcast and Verizon should be forced to treat access to all data on the internet equally and not give preferential “pay-for-play” treatment to content providers that can afford faster speeds.
The variety of tech companies that chose to sign—and not sign—the petition, reveals the varied set of interests fueling the net neutrality debate.
Of those companies to sign the letter, most were relatively small, like Instapaper and Medium. Defenders of net neutrality argue that without it, these smaller companies would be unable to compete with wealthier, more established competitors.
“New innovators often cannot afford to pay to reach consumers at the same speeds as well-established web companies,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation explained in a blog post in April. That means ISPs could effectively become gatekeepers to their subscribers.”
(That is to say, for better or worse, had there been no net neutrality in 2004, the world might still be on Myspace.)
Many of Silicon Valley’s largest companies also joined the petition, including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Netflix. The lattermost is responsible for almost a third of all traffic on the Internet, and has for weeks been in a public battle against Comcast over the fees it already pays the ISP for smooth delivery of its streaming movies to customers.
The company’s vice president for content delivery, Ken Florance, explained its defense of net neutrality back in April. “Comcast is double dipping by getting both its subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other,” he wrote. And any additional charge for content providers will inevitably be passed down to internet users.
“There cannot be an ‘intensely competitive’ market when Comcast alone sets the terms and conditions for access to Comcast subscribers,” Florance added.
The most notable absence from the group of signatories on the letter was Apple. The company has yet to issue any statement on the FCC’s rumored guidelines, so its reasons for not joining the coalition are unknown. But it’s absence isn’t entirely surprising. Not known for being a champion of the market competition, last summer, it was found guilty of fixing the price of ebooks, and in doing so increasing their price for consumers by as much as 50 percent. (Apple has appealed the decision.)
The FCC’s proposed rules on net neutrality will be put to an internal vote on May 15.
Neither Apple nor FCC chairman Tom Wheeler immediately responded to requests for comment on this story.