Pressure mounts on FCC over net-neutrality changes

A motorway Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The proposals could create a fast lane for data from content providers willing to pay

Pressure is mounting on the US Federal Communications Commission to delay or abandon plans to change the rules that govern how internet traffic is treated.

More than 50 venture capitalists have sent a letter expressing concerns about proposals to allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge for prioritised network access.

It comes a day after 100 technology companies signed a similar letter.

Two FCC commissioners are now calling for the 15 May vote to be delayed.

The row centres around the issue of net neutrality - a central tenet of the internet that holds all online traffic should be treated equally.

Recently it emerged the FCC was considering letting ISPs charge fees to content providers for prioritised access to their networks as long as they acted "in a commercially reasonable manner".

"If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the internet will no longer be a level playing field," the letter from venture capitalists reads.

Signatories included high-profile investors such as Ron Conway, of SV Angel, Chris Dixon, of Andressen Horowitz, and John Lilly, of Greylock Partners.

Meanwhile FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has joined fellow commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in calling for a delay to the vote.

Reclassify ISP

The debate has taken on new urgency in recent months as ISPs grow increasingly impatient with the glut of bandwidth-heavy services such as video-on-demand.

They want to charge companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney a fee to ensure their traffic is carried at high speed on their networks.

In February, Verizon won a landmark case that challenged the FCC's right to stop it charging such fees.

At the time, civil liberty groups said the FCC would have more teeth to enforce net-neutrality rules if it reclassified ISPs as telecommunication services, which are more highly regulated.

A separate letter from more than 100 civil liberty groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has also been sent to both the FCC and US President Barack Obama.

It read: "Internet service providers should not be in the business of picking winners and losers online.

"But the proposal the FCC is currently considering gives ISPs the power to do exactly that, which is why it must be abandoned."

Protesters are currently camping outside FCC headquarters in Washington ahead of a rally expected on 15th May.

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