Internet Pioneers Urge Cancellation of Net Neutrality Repeal Vote

A group of 21 leading technology pioneers, including Apple Computer cofounder Steve Wozniak and World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, this week penned an open letter to key congressional leaders asking them to pressure FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to cancel Thursday’s planned vote to repeal Net neutrality.

The process is severely flawed, they argued, and a rules repeal poses an imminent threat to the Internet.

The letter to Sens. Roger Wicker and Brian Schatz, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet and Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Brian Doyle, the chair and ranking member of the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, urges them to call on the FCC chairman to cancel the vote, arguing that the FCC’s plans to repeal Net neutrality will do serious damage to the Internet, to marketplace competition and to consumers.

The FCC proposal seeks to rescind Obama-era regulations that treat Internet access providers like utilities, protecting consumers and rival services from throttling, preference of one content service over another, and charging different fees for fast lane or slow lane speeds.

“The proposed order removes longstanding FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation,” according to the signatories.

Expert Opinions

The letter’s cosigners include Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation; Steve Bellovin, chief technologist of the FTC from 2012-2013; Vinton Cerf, known as the ‘Father of the Internet’ and codesigner of the TCP/IP protocols; and many other top cybersecurity, cryptology, Web and other experts.

The FCC’s proposed action is based on serious misunderstandings, the letter maintains. Further, its process is flawed, as it conducted no public hearings. Further, it has not taken the time to consider public comments or possible tampering with the comment system.

The New York Attorney General has undertaken an investigation into allegations that thousands of troll bots sent in fake comments during the public comment period. Also, the online comment system inexplicably went down just as John Oliver, who has argued fiercely for Net neutrality on his TV show, urged viewers to submit their comments.

The FCC and the Federal Trade Commission announced plans to coordinate consumer protections following the Net neutrality vote.

The FCC’s plan calls for the commission to review complaints and take action regarding required disclosures about Internet Service Providers throttling, prioritizing or experiencing traffic congestion. The FTC would investigate ISPs about the accuracy of such disclosures. The two agencies would share legal and technical expertise on these issues.

The Internet experts’ appeal should carry some weight in the final decision-making process, said Tim Mulligan, senior analyst at Midia Research.

“The fact that Steve Wozniak’s insights and background [helped] to build our current relationship with the digital economy through his pioneering early work as a cofounder of Apple underlines just what’s at stake with Thursday’s vote, ” he said.

The letter is not likely to change the final vote or the outcome, according to Mulligan, but it underlines just how important the issue is to the future of the industry.

Scales Tipped

The Trump administration appears to be carrying out a political agenda that includes a massive rollback of government regulations enacted during the prior administration, and it therefore may not be amenable to public opinion, observed Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates.

“I think digital access should be basic, like broadcast television or even water, ” he told the E-Commerce Times.

The FCC needs to take more time to consider Net neutrality issues before voting on the rules repeal, said Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self Reliance.

“The only reason for the FTC to rush this decision through,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “is they believe doing it around the holidays will blunt criticism of their handing over the Internet to the most hated monopolies in the nation.”

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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