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Roku has hired a team of lobbyists as it gears up for a net neutrality fight

There’s plenty at stake for the streaming hardware and software company.

The Roku box — or Streaming Stick — and Apple TV are good options for people who like to follow workout videos at home.
The Roku box — or Streaming Stick — and Apple TV are good options for people who like to follow workout videos at home.

Roku appears to be arming itself for the coming net neutrality war.

The web video streaming and hardware company has plenty at stake as the Federal Communications Commission prepares to pull back rules that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.

For Roku and others in the business, an end to the Obama-era protections could make it harder — or, in some cases, more expensive — to offer content or services to customers at top download speeds.

That’s why Roku has hired a pair of Republican lobbyists through an outside government-affairs firm, according to a federal ethics reports filed this week, specifically to focus on net neutrality. It’s the first time the company has ever retained lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Many in the tech industry support the Obama-era FCC’s net neutrality rules, which currently subject telecom companies to utility-style regulation. To Democrats, it’s the only way to stop the likes of AT&T, Comcast*, Charter or Verizon from blocking competing services or charging media companies for faster delivery of their content.

But Republicans, including new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, have long opposed that approach. In recent weeks, President Donald Trump has “pledged to reverse this overreach,” in the words of White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Senior Republicans, however, are mum on the timeline or plan.

For years, Netflix had been a primary political player in this fight, as a public advocate for strong open internet rules that sparred openly with the likes of Comcast. As Netflix has struck deals with the cable giant and others to speed up its traffic, however, the streaming company has tempered its tone.

Enter Roku, which, unlike Netflix, soon may find reason to be even more vocal in the debate: The company is considering whether it should launch an over-the-top pay TV service, sources have said. In other words, it increasingly could find itself in direct competition with internet providers.

Roku has tangled with telecom over net neutrality in the past. In 2014, Roku sought the FCC’s help after Comcast blocked users from streaming HBO and Showtime using Roku devices. The two companies settled the matter on their own by November of that year.

Asked about its new lobbyists, a Roku spokeswoman told Recode on Tuesday that the company “has a long record of engagement in the regulatory and policy discussions regarding net neutrality and we continue to share our views with members of Congress as well as the FCC.”

* Comcast, via its NBCU unit, is a minority investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.