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February 6, 2016

From Etsy to Execs, Net Neutrality Feedback Abounds

Amid the noise about tomorrow’s FCC meeting on a new net neutrality proposal, there have been some relatively thoughtful arguments issued in recent days by trade groups, advocacy organizations, individual companies and industry analysts. Here’s a look at a few:

Etsy wants to see reclassification of broadband as a telecommunications service. In a filing with the FCC, the online retailer says its considering adding a video component to its site, but couldn’t afford to pay for a “fast lane” to “ensure our site loaded as quickly, or that our videos played with as little buffering and with as high-definition as rival sites,” she writes. They’d have to raise prices, which would mean “decreasing the number of sellers who would otherwise have access to the platform,” writes Etsy policy director Althea Erickson.

And the expected proposal of a “commercial reasonableness” rule — which would allow the FCC to block deals between networks and content providers on a case-by-case basis —  gives no comfort, she writes, calling it an “invitation to engage in the equivalent of major antitrust litigation merely to have access to users.”

A group of artists and musicians is also calling for reclassification and says that the Internet has “eliminated the barriers of geography and taken collaborations to new levels.” It’s also enabled people to directly “seek out the film, music and art that moves them.”

“Allowing broadband providers to control this once-open platform shifts power away from individual artists and creators and interferes with freedom of speech and expression,” they write in the letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Tech-industry analysis site Gigaom also calls for reclassification and writes that broadband is also about “a diversity of voices and opinions that can be found via search engines or social networks,” which makes it important to have “strong net neutrality protections that prevent access providers, many of which have their own competing business offerings and a monopoly over the eyeballs of end users, from discriminating against network traffic.”

The site also writes that the mere “act of trying to call on the agency to intervene wastes time that a startup or a new service doesn’t have.”

The Writers Guild of America, West writes in a letter to Wheeler that “seven corporations control 95% of television production and viewing.” But with the Internet, there are “new buyers for what we as writers create,” they write.

“But if this new competition is unfairly pushed aside because the FCC adopts weak rules, rather than allowing consumers to decide what they prefer, neither innovation nor the best interests of society will be served,” they add.

On the other side of the spectrum, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield writes in a piece for Re/Code that people shouldn’t assume that having dedicated “fast lanes” forces everyone else into “slow lanes.” Those latter lanes may be slower in comparison, but they were slower “with or without the fast lanes.”

He makes the analogy of a highway:

If an entirely new lane is added at the ISP’s expense, that does not harm anyone riding along on the preexisting highway. We struggle to understand why enabling an “extra” HOV lane is bad policy that requires government regulation.

And moving “bandwith-heavy traffic” into a “separate fast lane that does not impair the preexisting pipe’s bandwith capabilities” could end up easing congestion, he writes.

In an FCC filing, Rick Chessan writes for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in opposition to reclassifying broadband as a common carrier, arguing that in other situations where the government has “imposed public utility-style regulation, such an approach has led to chronic under-investment in basic infrastructure.”

That type of classification would deter investment by broadband providers, he writes, adding that a “wide array of financial analysts and industry observers” emphatically argue that the “threat of Title II reclassification would damage broadband providers, discourage infrastructure investment, stifle job growth, and harm consumers.”

CEOs of broadband companies and associations also say that with reclassification, an era of “differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ‘Government — may I?’ requests from American entrepreneurs.”

(And, in case you missed it, earlier this week we recommended a primer on how the FCC got here, by Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review.)

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