Don’t Let Comcast Break the Internet!

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By Michael McCauley on Thursday, November 20th, 2014

At a time when celebrities are trying to break the Internet with their latest publicity stunts, there’s a much more serious threat to life as we know it online.

Our ability to access the web sites and online content we choose at an affordable price without interference by Internet service providers is under attack.   That’s because the principle of net neutrality could be weakened depending on how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acts in the coming weeks.

Net neutrality is a wonky term used to describe a free and open Internet where all content on the web must be treated equally.   In other words, Internet service providers like Comcast can’t block our access to websites and other content on the web.  And they can’t discriminate against content providers by charging more for quicker Internet access to you or slowing down connections for those who can’t pay extra for preferential treatment.

That’s how the Internet has operated since its inception and it’s the reason why it has flourished and been the force for so much innovation.  But last January, a federal court overturned the FCC’s net neutrality rules.  FCC chairman Tom Wheeler responded by proposing a new set of rules in May that purported to protect an open Internet, but that proposal effectively would create a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes and slow lanes for online traffic.

Earlier this year, Consumers Union urged the FCC to abandon that approach along with countless other groups and nearly four million Americans across the country.  Instead, we’ve called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service using its authority under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.   Doing so would enable the agency to ban preferential deals and ensure that the Internet is available to everyone on equal, nondiscriminatory terms.

The push for enacting strong open Internet rules got a big boost earlier this month when President Obama offered his support for the Title II solution.  He noted, “I’m urging the Federal Communications Commission to do everything they can to protect net neutrality for everyone.  They should make it clear that whether you use a computer, phone, or tablet, Internet providers have a legal obligation not to block or limit your access to a website; cable providers can’t decide which online stores you can shop at or which streaming services you can use and they can’t let any company pay for priority over its competitors.”

Opponents of net neutrality, including the National Cable Television Association and the major Internet service providers have launched a well-financed attack on net neutrality.   One exception has been Comcast, the nation’s largest broadband provider.  It claims to support net neutrality, which it is legally obligated to follow until 2018 under the terms of its previous merger with NBC Universal.

Right after President Obama made his announcement, a Comcast executive claimed that the company agreed with everything he said.   But let’s be real, it doesn’t.  Comcast certainly doesn’t support the Title II solution the President and groups like ours have been calling for.  Instead, its version of net neutrality would allow it to give big companies priority access to its customers if they paid for it.  And you know who would ultimately end up paying for that — me and you.  Comcast’s recent deal to charge Netflix a fee for smoother access to its customers comes to mind.  Smaller start-ups who refused to pay extra or couldn’t afford it would be relegated to the slow lane.

Before Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal required it to abide by net neutrality, the FCC determined that it had been interfering with its customers’ ability to access popular file sharing services that distributed licensed Hollywood content.  Comcast denied it, but the FCC concluded that the company had “unduly interfered with Internet users’ right to access the lawful Internet content and to use the applications of their choice.”  Comcast even went to court to try to block net neutrality.

A free and open Internet is especially critical at a time when companies like Comcast are seeking mergers to increase their market power.  If Comcast is allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable, it will control almost half of the truly high speed broadband in homes across the country, giving it unprecedented marketplace power.  Comcast would have even more leverage to engage in harmful discriminatory practices that could raise prices and stifle our access to more competitive options.

The Internet must remain open, affordable, and available to everyone.  That’s why it’s so critical to prevent Comcast from breaking the Internet by stopping its mega merger and making sure the FCC adopts strong net neutrality rules.  Call FCC Chairman Wheeler today at 1-202-418-1000 and urge him to reject Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable and support the Title II net neutrality solution.

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