Tech, equipment makers join U.S. 'net neutrality' debate

By Reuters

Sep 09, 2014 07:01 AM EDT

Regulating internet providers more like public utility companies could hurt the Internet and the U.S. economy, more than two dozen network technology and equipment makers have told U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Thirty-three companies including Cisco Systems IncIntel Corp and International Business Machines Corp joined the chorus of citizens, activists, lawmakers and companies debating how the U.S. government should regulate Internet service providers (ISPs).

Other companies signing a letter to Pritzker published on Tuesday included Alcatel Lucent SA, Ericsson, Nokia Oyj's network arm NSN, Panasonic Corp of North America and CommScope Holding Co Inc.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering so-called "net neutrality" rules that would determine how ISPs such as Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc manage web traffic on their networks.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed rules that would allow ISPs to charge content companies to ensure their websites or applications load smoothly and quickly, as long as such deals are deemed "commercially reasonable."

Critics, including popular video streaming service Netflix Corp and numerous advocacy groups, argue the plan would threaten less deep-pocketed content providers by potentially relegating them to "slow lanes" on the web.


Instead, they call on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunication service rather than the less-regulated information service it is now, saying the move would give more power to the FCC to stop potential violators of net neutrality.

ISPs and Republicans, both in Congress and at the FCC, have rejected the idea.

On Tuesday, 33 telecom network and tech makers, who are members of the Telecommunications Industry Association and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and who depend on ISPs for business, spoke out against the reclassification idea as well.

"A sudden shift from the existing light-touch approach - which has been an unqualified success and the basis for billions of dollars in investments - to the prescriptive regime of Title II would be extremely disruptive to the broadband marketplace," they wrote, referring to the legal authority the FCC would use to reclassify ISPs.

Experts have disagreed on whether or how reclassification would adequately prevent pay-for-priority deals.

Wheeler has not proposed reclassification as the solution, but has not taken it off the table as a potential option.

FCC is collecting public comment on the tentatively proposed rules until Sept. 15 and will hold several public workshops on various aspects of the regulations in the following weeks.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will hold a hearing on the issue of net neutrality on Sept. 17.

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