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Net neutrality: ‘father of internet’ joins tech leaders in condemning repeal plan

Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee and other industry luminaries tell US lawmakers proposal to end safeguards is based on misunderstanding of internet

More than 20 internet pioneers and leaders including the father of the internet, Vint Cerf; the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee; and the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak have urged the FCC to cancel its vote to repeal net neutrality, describing the plan as based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of how the internet works.

The FCCs rushed and technically incorrect proposed order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped, said the technology luminaries in an open letter to lawmakers with oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Monday.

Quick guide

Net neutrality

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyones data equally whether thats an email from your mother, a bank transfer or a streamed episode of Stranger Things. It means that ISPs, which control the delivery pipes, dont get to choose which data is sent more quickly, and which sites get blocked or throttled (for example, slowing the delivery of a TV show because it is streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP) and who has to pay extra. For this reason, some have described net neutrality as the first amendment of the internet.

Why is net neutrality under threat?

In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to more strictly regulate ISPs and to enshrine in law the principles of net neutrality. The vote reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers as title II common carriers, a public utility-type designation that gives the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors and more closely regulate the industry. Two years on, Trumps new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has pushed to overturn the 2015 order arguing they overstep the FCC’s jurisdiction and hinder corporate innovation. On 18 May, the FCC voted to support a new proposal that would repeal the order and started a 90-day period in which members of the public could comment. A final vote is expected in December.

The letter refers to the FCCs proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which removes net neutrality protections introduced in 2015 to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon would treat all web content and applications equally and not throttle, block or prioritise some content in return for payment.

The FCCs vote on the proposed order is scheduled for 14 December and it is expected to be approved.

It is important to understand that the FCCs proposed order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology, the internet pioneers state, adding that the flaws were outlined in detail in a 43-page comment submitted by 200 tech leaders to the FCC in July.

Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings.

Over the last 15 years, both Republican and Democratic FCC chairs have supported and enforced the principles of net neutrality, believing it to be important for protecting open markets on the internet. Donald Trumps FCC, headed by the former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, plans to break with convention, arguing that it is unnecessary regulation that is preventing ISPs from making money to fund new broadband infrastructure something the ISPs themselves have denied when speaking to their investors.

The net neutrality rules have broad support from members of the public across the political spectrum, according to multiple polls. More than 22m comments were submitted to the FCC by members of the public in response to Pais proposal to scrap the rules, indicating that the public is clearly passionate about protecting the internet. Although the total number was inflated by spam and pre-populated form letters, 98.5% of the unique comments opposed the repeal, according to a study funded by ISPs.

Despite widespread public outcry, the FCC broke with established practice by not holding any public meetings to hear from citizens and experts about the appeal, the letter states.

Other signatories include Mitchell Baker, executive chairwoman of the Mozilla Foundation; Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, pioneers of public-key cryptography; Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive; and Jennifer Rexford, chair of computer science at Princeton University.

They argue that the FCC should delay the vote until it has fully investigated the problems with the online commenting system and come up with an alternative way of protecting net neutrality principles.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/dec/11/net-neutrality-vint-cerf-tim-berners-lee-fcc-letter

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