Outrage over net neutrality decision heard ‘round the Internet

Pretty much everybody but Big Broadband hates the FCC’s new plans

The Federal Communications Commission’s proposed new rules for net neutrality touched off a firestorm across broad sections of the Internet this week, as critics charge that the FCC has effectively gutted the entire concept.

The central concern of most critics is that the proposed rules would allow major ISPs to charge providers of online services for preferred access to their networks – imposing, in essence, an additional tariff over and above what such companies already pay for bandwidth.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation issued a statement Thursday slamming the FCC’s proposal as anti-competitive and bad for U.S. Internet users.

“This kind of ‘pay to play’ model would be profoundly dangerous for competition,” the group said. “New innovators often cannot afford to pay to reach consumers at the same speeds as well-established web companies. That means ISPs could effectively become gatekeepers to their subscribers.”

Other responses focused on pushing Washington for changes to the proposed rules. A petition posted at Whitehouse.gov urges the Obama administration to commit to “true” net neutrality, saying that “We as a nation must settle for nothing less than complete neutrality in our communication channels.” The petition has 13,337 signatures as of Friday afternoon EST.

Nor was legislative branch been left out – a Reddit user posted the email addresses of every U.S. Senator, as well as those of each FCC commissioner to the r/technology page. The post has since been stickied (or pinned) to the front page of the popular subreddit and has received about 2,400 upvotes.

Mike Wu, the Columbia Law School professor widely credited with introducing the phrase “net neutrality” into the popular consciousness, held forth in a blog post on The New Yorker’s website Thursday, criticizing the president for violating a 2007 campaign promise to maintain net neutrality.

“Unfortunately, [President Obama’s] FCC chairman is in the process of violating a core promise to innovators, to the technology sector, and, really, to all of us who use the Internet,” he wrote.

GigaOm’s Stacey Higginbotham bashed the decision in an article headlined “When it comes to net neutrality, either the FCC thinks we’re idiots, or it just doesn’t care.”

“Absent competition, the proposed rules look like a way for ISPs to get more money, set rules that will affect the shape of what is developed on the internet, and do all of these things with no guarantees that consumers or the broadband economy get anything in return,” she wrote.

Other prominent media outlets have criticized the FCC proposal as well, including the New York Times editorial board, which slammed the commission for its apparent deference to the powerful broadband industry.

“The Internet has been a boon to the economy and to free speech because it is not divided into tiers and is open to everybody in the same way,” the editorial stated.

The business sector got in on the act, as well, with Comcast and Netflix engaging in a war of blog posts Thursday afternoon. The former company will be one of the major beneficiaries of the FCC’s apparent abandonment of key net neutrality principles, while the latter stands to be one of the new rules’ biggest casualties.

The debate started when Netflix addressed net neutrality in a post by vice president of content delivery Ken Florance criticizing Comcast on the related issue of its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. An incident earlier this year that saw Comcast demand – and receive – a hefty fee from Netflix in exchange for continued carriage of high-quality streaming content helped propel the issue to prominence in the first place.  

“Comcast is not charging Netflix for transit service. It is charging Netflix for access to its subscribers. Comcast also charges its subscribers for access to Internet content providers like Netflix. In this way, Comcast is double dipping by getting both its subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other,” Florance wrote.

Comcast senior vice president of corporate communications Jennifer Khoury challenged Netflix’ assertions in a response post, accusing the video streaming company of trying to pass the cost of their services on to the Internet at large.

“While it’s understandable for Netflix to try to make all Internet users pay for its costs of doing business (as opposed to just their customers), the company should at least be honest about its cost-shifting strategy,” Khoury wrote.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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