Google office in London

Tech-driven companies from Amazon to Twitter are joining a protest over proposed rollbacks to net neutrality rules that keep the Internet at large outside the control of cable companies.

Hundreds of web sites are participating in a “day of action” protest against plans by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen current “open Internet” rules set down in 2015 that ensure cable companies or Internet service providers are not allowed to throttle Internet speeds, charge extra fees for access to certain content or otherwise give priority to content.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai was nominated to the position in January by President Trump after serving on the FCC commission under President Obama.

Pai in April proposed a plan to loosen government oversight of high-speed Internet providers and no longer treat the Internet as a public utility. He said in a speech that the plan was “basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

He also characterized the 2015 rules as wholly unnecessary and a move by the Obama White House “all about politics” that was made “in order to energize a dispirited base” after the 2014 midterm election cycle.

“Did these [Internet] fast lanes and slow lanes exist? No,” Pai said when he announced the rollback plan. “The truth of the matter is that we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom. It’s almost as if the special interests pushing [the rules] weren’t trying to solve a real problem but instead looking for an excuse to achieve their long-standing goal of forcing the Internet under the federal government’s control.”

But Internet-dependent tech companies like Amazon, Etsy, Twitter, Netflix, Tumblr, Google, Facebook and many others, view the prospect of Internet providers again getting to regulate themselves as more than likely to stratify access to the Internet for their companies, the public and entrepreneurs.

Amazon, which just tallied its best-ever Prime Day, has a link on its homepage to the Internet Association, a group of tech companies that supports net neutrality and says without net neutrality rules, Internet service providers will be able to “control” the online experience, namely by prioritizing web sites, blocking others and slowing down access to whatever content it chooses.

As for Pai’s position that regulation of ISPs is weighing on the free-market success of the Internet, which he says thrived before the open Internet rules came down in 2015, research from the Internet Association claims that cable and broadband investment by public companies grew to $250 billion in 2016 from $173 billion in 2010.     

Facebook founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg focused more on the social angle of net neutrality in a personal post to the site. He urged Facebook users to support net neutrality, saying “if a service provider can block you from seeing certain content or can make you pay extra for it, that hurts all of us and we should have rules against it.”

“Right now, the FCC has rules in place to make sure the Internet continues to be an open platform for everyone,” Zuckerberg added. “At Facebook, we strongly support those rules. If we want everyone in the world to have access to all the opportunities that come with the Internet, we need to keep the internet free and open.”

Google echoed that sentiment on its blog and said the current “common sense” net neutrality protections are depended on by established Internet companies like itself, as well as start-ups and Internet users at large.

“Thanks in part to net neutrality, the open Internet has grown to become an unrivaled source of choice, competition, innovation, free expression and opportunity,” Google said. “And it should stay that way.”

A representative of the FCC could not be reached for comment.

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