Advocacy groups are rallying the troops with a new protest aimed at defending net neutrality rules. While details on the July 12 event are still sparse, organizers say more information will be available soon, and that they'll provide tools to help participants take action. Meanwhile, some noteworthy names have joined the effort including Amazon, Etsy, Kickstarter and Mozilla.
Citing similar movements like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and fights against earlier threats to net neutrality, protest advocates are hoping to gain momentum by reminding audiences of prior cases where public outcry and online politicking have directly affected decisions on Internet regulation. At stake this time is the possible rollback of the Open Internet Order that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed in 2015, and that courts have so far upheld. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) asking for comments on a plan to dismantle the order championed by his predecessor, Chairman Tom Wheeler. Initial comments on that NPRM are due on July 17. (See Net Neutrality: Before the Vote.)
Internet service providers have widely criticized the Open Internet Order, and particularly the reclassification of ISPs as Title II common carriers, which could theoretically allow the government to regulate Internet rates in the future. Network operators, with some exceptions, say that the threat of rate regulation discourages infrastructure investment, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) SVP David Cohen even went so far recently as to say that "the leveling off and even reduction of capital intensity since the adoption of Title II suggests Comcast capital spend alone is going to decrease more than $2.5 billion over a three-year time."
However, defenders of the ruling argue that Title II classification is necessary in order to enforce net neutrality principles that include no blocking or throttling of Internet traffic, and no paid prioritization for traffic delivery. Additionally, many Title II supporters, including former FCC Chairman Wheeler, have pointed out that infrastructure investment is good for business, suggesting that ISPs will continue to spend money on network buildouts simply because that's how they'll continue to grow. (See The Title II Capex Argument Is Ridiculous.)
Of note, while Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) was one of the staunchest allies of the net neutrality movement in previous years, the company is taking a lower profile in the fight today. At the recent Code 2017 conference, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings acknowledged that while his company still supports net neutrality, "It's not our primary battle at this point."
For net neutrality advocates, this makes it all the more important that a big name like Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) is ready to lend its weight to the cause.
The big consumer concern in the net neutrality debate is that ISPs will prioritize delivery of their own content -- via the broadband pipes they control -- over content produced by competitors. Netflix, and presumably Amazon, are large enough in the video space that they have the required leverage to fight against unfavorable content delivery practices, but smaller companies and online video startups don't have the same advantage.
Of course, ISPs don't necessarily need to prioritize their own traffic to give themselves a leg up online. Service providers also benefit just from being able subsidize video pricing with higher-margin broadband services. Most recently, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) demonstrated this fact by marketing its DirecTV Now service as a $10 add-on to an unlimited mobile broadband data plan. That price point beats out standalone competitor services including Sling TV and Playstation Vue.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading