Net neutrality ads appear in Washington ahead of FCC vote

Net neutrality advert Image copyright Alexis Ohanian
Image caption The advert has been placed at dozens of bus stops in the US capital

Crowdfunded ads that aim to put pressure on a US regulator before it proposes new net neutrality rules have appeared in Washington DC.

The campaign was organised by Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

It urges people to phone the watchdog and oppose it allowing telecom firms to charge for prioritised data delivery.

The Federal Communications Commission's five-member board will decide whether to proceed with drafted guidelines on Thursday.

Ahead of the vote, the FCC's senior lawyer hosted a Twitter chat in which she provided further details about the draft document being considered, which has not yet been made public.

Gigi Sohn tweeted that the document "asks if paid prioritization should be banned outright & seeks comment on best ways 2 protect innovators".

She added that the public would be given 60 days to comment on the proposals, and a further 60 to reply to others' posts before the FCC made a final decision.

But critics fear that the "open internet" proposals will fail to prevent the broadband firms charging content providers for a premium data transmission option.

"[They will] kill the idea of net neutrality and replace it with a 'cable-ised' version that costs more for consumers, enables discrimination across services that make use of the net, and makes it harder to access the stuff that we access each day today (from video streaming to file saving and sharing)," wrote Mr Ohanian.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The FCC hosted a Twitter chat about its net neutrality plan on Tuesday

"On top of all that, it'd have a chilling effect on entrepreneurship - all for the benefit of a few cable companies."

Social media campaign

The adverts have been placed at 30 bus stops in the US capital after a fundraising effort on Crowdtilt's website raised more than $21,000 (£12,520).

Electronic versions of the ad are also being shared across social media.

However, Mr Ohanian was not able to achieve his original plan to place the ad on a billboard "right in the FCC's backyard" - mirroring a similar tactic mounted against the author of a controversial anti-piracy law.

The FCC denies it is deliberately trying to destroy the principle of net neutrality but argues that it needs to clarify regulations after a court ruling earlier this year.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with telecoms firm Verizon in January after the firm challenged the FCC's previous instruction that broadband providers must treat all traffic equally.

Since then both Verizon and Comcast, another cable firm, have begun charging Netflix for direct access to their networks to ensure that its TV shows and movies are delivered at high speeds to avoid the problem of buffering.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Netflix is paying Verizon and Comcast despite speaking out in favour of net neutrality

"Right now there r no rules 2 protect open internet," tweeted Ms Sohn during the Twitter chat.

"Chairman wants 2 ensure all Americans can get unfettered access 2 the content & application they want."

Regulation dilemma

The FCC's chairman, Tom Wheeler, added that one "viable option" being considered was to have broadband internet access reclassified as a Title II "telecommunications service" rather than its current status as an "information service".

Doing so would potentially allow the regulator to block priority-access deals.

However, telecoms industry leaders have questioned whether the FCC has the power to do this, and warned of negative consequences.

"America's economic future... critically depends on continued investment and innovation in our broadband infrastructure and app economy to drive improvements in health care, education and energy," 28 of the industry's leaders wrote in a letter to the watchdog.

Image copyright Save the internet
Image caption The Save the Internet campaign fears that the FCC's tactics could backfire

"Under Title II, new service offerings, options, and features would be delayed or altogether foregone.

"An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of 'Government may I?' requests from American entrepreneurs."

Mr Wheeler has said another option would be to try to block deals that were not "commercially viable" by making reference to a section of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

However, the Save The Internet Campaign - supported by Mr Ohanian - suggests that this tactic would be destined to fail.

"If and when the FCC tried to prevent bad deals, the agency would lose again in court," it said.

"The revisions to Wheeler's [earlier] draft are encouraging on one level. They show that the chairman is trying to respond to the massive protests against his proposal. He just isn't listening closely enough."

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