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Online Giants, Small Businesses Criticise US Net Neutrality Repeal

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The planned removal of a 2015 US law could mean more charges for large businesses and start-ups, not to mention price confusion for consumers

Networking globeGoogle, Facebook and Netflix, along with hundreds of small US businesses, have voiced their opposition to plans aimed at removing “network neutrality” regulations introduced by the country’s communications regulator in 2015.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday published plans that would overturn the Obama-era rules, which forbid internet providers from providing preferential treatment to particular services.

The regulations have been backed by companies doing business over the internet but criticised by communications service providers, who say it restricts their ability to offer innovative packages to consumers.

Critics have said without net neutrality regulations it could become difficult for newer services to compete with established companies. In some countries, including the UK, providers already offer packages that exempt popular services such as YouTube and Skype from mobile data caps.

Price confusion

Consumer advocates also fear confusing bundles could make it easier for service providers to raise prices.

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai is a fierce critic of the 2015 net neutrality rules and regulators are due to vote in December on repealing them.

Facebook said it was “disappointed” in the plans.

“We are disappointed that the proposal announced this week by the FCC fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone,” the company said in a statement. “We will work with all stakeholders committed to this principle.”

Google said the neutrality rules are “working well”, while Netflix said in a tweet it was “lodging our opposition publicly and loudly now”.

A group of 1,000 small US businesses told the FCC in an open letter the changes could harm start-ups.

“We’re deeply concerned with your intention to undo the existing legal framework,” the group wrote. “Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market. They could impede traffic from our services in order to favour their own services or established competitors.”

Barriers for small businesses

Online education company Codecadamy told The New York Times the change could increase difficulties for online start-ups.

“This adds another level of confusion, making the hurdle even higher for normal businesses to participate,” said chief executive Zach Sims.

Many in the US have little choice over which broadband provider they use, but some telecoms companies have promised not to use the rules change to increase charges for certain content providers.

In a blog post, Comcast said transparency rules would ensure customers were aware of their providers’ neutrality policies and would be protected from “anti-competitive or deceptive practices”.

“Comcast has already made net neutrality promises to our customers, and we will continue to follow those standards, regardless of the regulations in place,” the company wrote.

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