Net neutrality warning

Google, Facebook, Amazon and other online giants warn that the Internet faces a “grave threat” if service providers are able to prioritize or restrict usage based on negotiated payments.

In a joint letter Wednesday, some 150 companies told the Federal Communications Commission its proposed rules over net neutrality would permit phone and cable firms to discriminate “both technically and financially” against companies providing online services.

“Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both ?xed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization,” they said.

They said the regulations “should make the market for Internet services more transparent” and warned that fair rules “are essential for the future of the Internet.”

The letter challenged the FCC’s proposed rules on how Internet service providers — mainly a handful of telecommunications giants who control the transmission of data via cable and airwaves — can negotiate individual deals over access levels, speed and priority with online companies rather than keeping access completely neutral

Small companies especially fear their businesses could suffer if their services are not delivered with adequate speed while larger competitors pay for priority.

Furor over the issue has stepped up after streaming video provider Netflix agreed in February to pay Comcast a certain amount to ensure Comcast customers get Netflix movies and shows more quickly and reliably.

Courts have struck down FCC attempts to enforce completely neutral Internet service. The commission argues that some rules are necessary because consumers and companies are not at the moment legally protected from discrimination by providers.

The FCC’s five-member commission is now to vote on a draft set of rules on May 15 that would permit “fast lanes” for paying companies while setting requirements for fair service speeds to others.

If the draft rules are agreed, they will be submitted to the public for review and comment, after which they can be put into law or revised.

The tech firms said the FCC “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.”

In response, FCC spokesman Neil Grace said the commission’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, will put the matter to a vote next week.

Wheeler, he said, “fully supports a robust public debate on how best to protect the open Internet.”

“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.”

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Net neutrality warning