FCC holds Twitter chat on net neutrality

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by Ben Sullivan| 13 May 2014

US commission revising rules in face of public backlash over preferential internet performance.

The US Federal Communications Commission is today holding a Twitter chat with its Senior Counsel for External Affairs, Gigi B. Sohn.

The chat, labeled with the hashtag #FCCNetNeutrality, comes as Chairman Tom Wheeler revises proposed internet rules following huge public outcry over plans for a two speed internet.

Wheeler was forced to make revisions after the FCC was on the receiving end of 35,000 comments from the public, most expressing concern at the proposed plans to allow telecoms companies such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to financially discriminate between traffic on commercial grounds.

The Twitter chat starts at 2pm EDT.

Recently a coalition of some of tech's biggest companies also attacked the FCC's plans. In an open letter, the tech companies expressed the necessity for a "free and open internet."

The letter was signed by Amazon, Dropbox, Ebay, Facebook, Google, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netfix, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter and Yahoo, plus over 100 more.

"Instead of permitting individualised bargaining and discrimination, the Commission's rules should protect users and internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritisation, and should make the market for internet services more transparent," the letter said.

It goes on to say: "This Commission should take the necessary steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce so that America continues to lead the world in technology markets."

One reports claimed the FCC would allow "preferential treatment" as long as "commercially reasonable" deals were available for all companies.

Protestors have been camped outside of the FCC in Washington in the style of the Occupy rallies, and they are expected to last until May 15, when a vote will be held on revised rules.

A further group of 86 organisations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Free Press and Reddit are demanding the FCC reclassify broadband companies as telecommunication services, which would give the commission the authority to impose net neutrality rules on them.

Wheeler is expected to soon circulate new rules that make it clear what the agency will and will not tolerate from internet providers. He is also proposing tougher rules for broadband providers who want to create paid, priority lanes on their networks.

"The new draft clearly reflects public input the commission has received," Wheeler said in a statement. "The draft is explicit that the goal is to find the best approach to ensure the Internet remains open and prevent any practices that threaten it."

In the revisions, a provision would be in place that would 'presume' it to be illegal for a broadband provider to prioritise traffic of an affiliated service.

On a statement about he chat on its websites, the FCC said: "The Internet is America's most important platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression. And yet, despite two prior FCC attempts to implement and enforce Open Internet safeguards, there are no rules on the books to prevent broadband providers from limiting Internet openness by blocking or discriminating against consumers and entrepreneurs online.

"Ahead of the FCC's vote on proposed rules to promote and protect an Open Internet, Gigi B. Sohn, FCC Senior Counsel for External Affairs for FCC Chairman Wheeler, will be answering your questions via Twitter. Please submit your questions using the hashtag #FCCNetNeutrality."

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