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Internet Giants Raise Concerns About Net Neutrality Plan

Google joins dozens of Internet companies to complain about the net neutrality plan as the FCC chairman faces an internal revolt.

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More than a hundred Internet companies, including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter, asked federal regulators Wednesday to reconsider a plan to allow Internet providers to sell fast lanes to content providers.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the companies raised concerns about news reports that the agency is preparing to release draft rules that would allow Comcast* and other Internet providers to sell prioritized service to content companies.

The proposal is part of broader net neutrality rules for Internet lines that would bar broadband providers from blocking legal websites or applications and require ISPs to be more transparent about how they manage Internet traffic.

If the news reports about the draft net neutrality rules are correct, the companies wrote, “this represents a grave threat to the Internet.”

In the letter, the tech companies said: “Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low.”

Consumer groups and net neutrality advocates have complained about the proposal since it was unveiled a few weeks ago. But the unified stance of the tech companies — particularly Google, Facebook and Microsoft, which spend millions on lobbying in D.C. — represents a significant problem for Wheeler.

The embattled FCC chairman was also facing an internal revolt on Wednesday, after his two Democratic colleagues both said publicly they too have concerns about his net neutrality proposal.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn published a blog post about her worries.

Her colleague Jessica Rosenworcel went a step further and suggested Wheeler delay a vote on the draft rules to give everyone more time to study them before releasing them to the public.

Noting the FCC has received tens of thousands of emails about the proposal, she said the agency needs time for more input. “So while I recognize the urgency to move ahead and develop rules with dispatch, I think the greater urgency comes in giving the American public opportunity to speak right now, before we head down this road,” she said in a speech Wednesday.

Wheeler quickly shot down that idea, saying through a spokesman that “moving forward will allow the American people to review and comment on the proposed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to putting rules on the books to protect consumers and entrepreneurs online.”

It’s a relatively risky move by Wheeler to dismiss Rosenworcel’s suggestion, since he needs her vote.

There are five members on the FCC’s board, and three of them are Democrats. The two Republican members have already said they don’t think there’s a need for rules. If either Rosenworcel or Clyburn were to vote against the proposal, it would be an embarrassing loss for Wheeler, who has already been heavily criticized by net neutrality supporters.

A spokesman for Rosenworcel said her office had no comment on the chairman’s rejection of her delay request.

*Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is an investor in Revere Digital, the parent company of Re/code.

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