SEATTLE | Many Seattle-area tech companies are continuing to speak out against the proposed rollback of federal net-neutrality regulations as advocates of an "open internet" plan protests nationwide.
The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote this week on the proposed rollback, which would eliminate rules that require internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to provide the same network speed and access to every website.
Opponents say getting rid of the rules could allow internet providers to favor certain websites or charge companies more to ensure faster access to their sites — making some faster and easier to access, and others basically impossible to find.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has argued that overregulation prevents broadband companies from making significant investments needed to support innovation. Kirkland-based internet provider Wave Broadband agrees that the rules can be a "burden" but has said it does not let companies pay for priority service or block users' access to content.
But others think rescinding the rules could lead to access issues. "There is more to consider with rolling back net neutrality than merely innovation and a healthy market," said Esther Gehrman Sirotnik, corporate counsel at Seattle online legal-advice company Avvo. "Turning the internet into a toll bridge could bring on an ice age — potentially chilling how consumers access information."
Avvo joined a long list of local tech companies in an online protest of the rollback in July, which included the likes of Amazon, Expedia, Moz, Google, Twitter and Netflix.
The next step for those opposing the rule change is a series of protests at Verizon stores across the country. Protests organized by activist group Demand Progress are scheduled at the downtown Seattle Verizon store on Sixth Avenue and at the Bellevue Crossroads Verizon store.
Microsoft reiterated its commitment to net neutrality last week, when company President Brad Smith tweeted, "Microsoft believes in preserving the open internet & opposes weakening net neutrality protections." He included a link to comments the company filed last summer with the FCC.
More than 200 companies and trade groups — including Moz, Shift Labs and several others from the area — issued a letter on Cyber Monday, saying that getting rid of the rules could throw the growth of e-commerce into jeopardy.
"The internet is increasingly where commerce happens," states the letter, signed by Airbnb, Twitter and Reddit. "This economic growth is possible because of the free and open internet."
The upcoming vote has been the focus of internet communities, particularly on Reddit and Tumblr, with people spreading petitions and calls for others to reach out directly to the FCC to express opposition.
The online opposition voices might be growing, but they don't seem to be slowing the FCC.
Pai, the FCC chairman, said Monday the vote — which is expected to pass in the Republican-dominated commission — will proceed as planned on Dec. 14.