Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has raised some big questions for the tech industry. Eric Gaillard/Reuters
There’s a tendency to talk about net neutrality in black and white terms.
The narrative often deems net neutrality a liberal versus conservative issue, or a battle between two different types of tech forces — internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon on one side, internet companies like Netflix, Google, and everyone else on the other.
The truth is, things are a bit more nuanced.
For one, polls have repeatedly suggested that most Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, support net neutrality as a concept. Most people involved in this debate agree that an ISP shouldn’t be allowed to artificially block or slow certain websites, or give preferential treatment to some sites in exchange for payment.
The dividing lines here are really about power: who has it, who doesn’t, and who would have it in a world without enforceable net-neutrality laws, which is what Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai seems intent on creating. And within that divide, there are layers.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the FCC’s current net-neutrality rules on Wednesday, but has run afoul of net-neutrality advocates in the past. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
This past Wednesday, hundreds of internet companies participated in an online protest designed to rally the net neutrality-supporting base and put pressure on the Pai and other Republicans’ plans to scrap the existing net-neutrality rules. Those rules treat ISPs akin to public utilities — a la water or electricity providers — via Title II of the Communications Act, and have been upheld in court. The protest’s organizers said more than 2 million comments were submitted to the agency in support of the rules as a result of the event.
The vast majority of the protest’s participants were organizations you’ve probably never heard of. Tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon joined the action as well, though, and since those are the companies the masses care about, they got the headlines. Which is fine! Big compwanies have more influence than smaller ones.
But there are differences between what these giants of the internet and their smaller counterparts are saying. More importantly, there’s a difference in how the most powerful internet companies are incentivized to act. It’s a fine line, but an important distinction for those who want the existing net-neutrality rules to stay.
Here’s how some of the major firms decided to take action on Wednesday: