fcc-tom-wheelerThe tech industry has come out against the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed net neutrality rules, which would allow Internet providers to charge for premium access to their networks, giving companies that can afford those fees an advantage over those that can’t.

A group of companies including Amazon, Facebook, and Google voiced their concerns in a letter sent to the FCC on Wednesday. “According to recent news reports, the 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 letter reads in part. “If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.” The letter was signed by 150 companies from a variety of industries.

The companies were joined today by a group of investors from firms like True Ventures, Y Combinator, and Union Square Ventures which also expressed concern in an open letter to the FCC. The letter, which was signed by more than 50 investors from more than a dozen firms, predictably, explained its issue with the proposed rules in investment terms:

We have made our investment decisions based on the certainty of a level playing field and of assurances against discrimination and access fees from Internet access providers. Indeed, our investment decisions in Internet companies are dependent upon the certainty of an equal-opportunity marketplace.

Based on news reports and your own statements, we are worried that your proposed rules will not provide the necessary certainty that we need to make investment decisions and that these rules will stifle innovation in the Internet sector.

The FCC’s rules have been criticized since it was revealed that they wouldn’t address deals that directly affect a service’s performance and offer large companies a competitive advantage over their smaller counterparts. Those deals have attracted the ire of Internet advocates as well as infrastructure companies like Level 3 Communications, which alleges in a blog post that some Internet providers are using their size to limit Level 3’s ability to deliver information to consumers.

Pando weighs in

On the Netflix-Comcast deal’s effect on smaller services:

The Internet has historically been a place where anyone could post content or offer services to the same global audience, regardless of whether you’re a kid from Arkansas or a multi-national corporation. But it’s becoming more like cable TV where content providers have to bring loads to cash to the table before companies like Time Warner and Cablevision will bring that content to millions of eyeballs.

That could leave small-time players like [VoteRockIt founder Matt] Hudson stuck on the Internet equivalent of grainy, limited-audience public access TV.

On the FCC’s unwillingness to defend the free Internet:

Splitting issues that could affect the foundation of the Internet and allowing companies like Comcast to hamstring the greatest technological innovation in human history — or at least the innovation just behind man-made fire and wine — because the FCC wants to focus on semantics is insane. The Internet isn’t just the series of tubes connecting Comcast’s infrastructure to our homes: it’s the whole damned thing, from the servers operated by companies like Netflix all the way down to the cables in our homes.

Comcast might not be violating net neutrality laws, but it’s certainly violating the spirit behind them. It’s about time the FCC did something about that.

On the European Union’s attempts to defend the free Internet:

The legislation is meant to provide access to online services ‘without discrimination, restriction or interference, independent of the sender, receiver, type, content, device, service or application.’ For example, ISPs would be barred from slowing down or ‘throttling’ the speed at which one service’s videos are delivered while allowing other services to stream at normal rates. To bastardize Gertrude Stein: a byte is a byte is a byte.

Such restrictions would prevent deals like the one Comcast recently made with Netflix, which will allow the service’s videos to reach consumers faster than before. Comcast is also said to be in talks with Apple for a deal that would allow videos from its new streaming video service to reach consumers faster than videos from competitors. The Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality laws don’t apply to those deals, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, so they are allowed to continue despite the threat they pose to the free Internet.

On FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s promises to defend the free Internet:

The agency is still ignoring the peering and interconnection agreements that allow companies like Comcast to charge both companies and consumers for access to its network. It’s still manned by people who fought the principles it’s now trying to defend. And it’s still the same agency whose own incompetence threatened the Internet in the first place.

So how about it: do you trust an axe-murderer willing to slaughter the free Internet in broad daylight, or do you think the FCC will do what it’s supposed to and defend the free Internet? Remember that axes leave scars, and that idealism is rarely enough to keep death at bay.

On the futility of arguing about what net neutrality really means:

The terms we use to describe these issues directly affect our ability to defend the free Internet. If more people explored the ways that deals like the one between Netflix and Comcast threaten consumers instead of pointing out that they don’t technically violate net neutrality rules, we might start a conversation that the millions of people affected by these deals can understand. If the FCC can change its laws to use the right words, it might be able to protect the Internet.

But if we continue to argue about the meaning of net neutrality to defend the actions of companies threatening the very idea of the free Internet, all we’ve done is split hairs while the Internet collapsed around us. This is a time for action, not a time for pedantic arguments about ultimately meaningless terms.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]