Google, Facebook, Netflix Make Their Official Case for Net Neutrality

The FCC is nearing the deadline for the first round of comments on the controversial proposal.

A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California.   (National Journal)

The lobbying group for the world's largest Internet companies made its official case for broad net neutrality regulations in a filing Monday.

Broadband access providers have the technical ability and the financial incentive to clog Internet traffic and extort tolls from Web companies, the Internet Association wrote in a comment to the Federal Communications Commission.

The group, which represents Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, and others, said broadband providers could turn the Internet into "a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today's Internet."

"The Commission must act to protect its open and neutral architecture, which is the force behind the Internet's success," the group argued.

The FCC first enacted net neutrality regulations in 2010, but a federal court struck them down earlier this year. The agency is now trying to re-work the rules in a way that can survive future court challenges.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put forward a proposal in May that prompted a massive public backlash because it would allow broadband providers to charge websites for faster service as long as the arrangements are "commercially reasonable."

In its filing, the Internet Association argued that Wheeler's proposal would undermine "the Internet's level playing field."

"It shifts the balance from the consumers' freedom of choice to the broadband Internet access providers' gatekeeping decisions," the group wrote.

Instead, the FCC should enact "simple, light-touch rules" to ban providers from blocking or discriminating against any Internet traffic, the Internet Association wrote.

The group urged the FCC to apply those rules to both cellular networks and wired broadband connections. The FCC's old net neutrality rules applied only to wireline broadband networks, but the Internet Association argued that with so many people now accessing the Internet on their smartphones, the agency should abolish that distinction.

The FCC should also regulate the interconnection points on the Internet's backbone to ensure providers are not intentionally degrading traffic, the Internet Association said. The old rules only controlled how providers had to handle traffic once it was on their networks. But in recent months, Verizon and Netflix have accused each other of clogging interconnection points, resulting in long buffering times and grainy videos for users.

The group did not say whether the FCC should reclassify Internet providers as "common carrier" utilities, a move that some liberals say is necessary to put the net neutrality rules on firm legal ground. Utility-style regulation would lead to a political battle with Republicans and Internet providers, who claim it would stifle investment.

The FCC has received more than 647,000 public comments on Wheeler's proposal. Other major companies and associations are expected to file before the deadline for the first round of comments on Tuesday. Google and the other Internet giants may choose to file their own separate comments in addition to the filing from the Internet Association.

The public can reply to the first round of comments until Sept. 10. The FCC will then have to decide what final regulations to enact.