Internet giants Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and a slew of other high-profile tech companies weighed in on new rules that are currently being written to keep the Internet open.
The CEOs of of those companies, along with some telecommunications and media firms, such as EchoStar and XO Communications, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Monday supporting his efforts to create official regulation that protects Net Neutrality.
The process for developing these new rules, which Genachowski proposed during a speech last month, will begin at the agency's monthly open meeting in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
The FCC has already received several letters from lawmakers criticizing the new rules. And the big telecommunications and cable companies, namely AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon Communications, have opposed the new rules.
These critics fear that making Net neutrality regulations official regulation will hurt investment in cable and telephone networks.
But CEOs of technology companies who sent the letter to the FCC do not think that new rules will hurt investment. Instead, they believe it will spur innovation because companies will not have to fear that their applications could be blocked by a larger competitor.
"An open Internet fuels a competitive and efficient marketplace, where consumers make the ultimate choices about which products succeed and which fail," the CEOs said in their letter. "This allows businesses of all sizes, from the smallest start-up to larger corporations, to compete, yielding maximum economic growth and opportunity."
The letter went on to say that the technology leaders applauded the chairman's leadership for initiating the process to make the Net neutrality rules official.
Some of the prominent CEOs signing the letter included Jeff Bezos of Amazon; Craig Newmark; founder of Craigslist; Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook; Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google; Barry Diller, CEO of IAC; Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype; Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter; and Steve Chen, founder of YouTube.
The debate over Net neutrality has been raging for more than three years. Congressional leaders have held committee meetings on potential laws to ensure that Internet service providers couldn't monkey with traffic. But so far none of the proposed bills has become law.
To date there are no official rules on the FCC's books that specifically protect an open Internet. Instead, the FCC has adopted four guiding principles. The existing principles can be summarized this way: network operators cannot prevent users from accessing lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching nonharmful devices to the network.
Genachowski has proposed making these principles actual regulation. And he wants to add two new rules to this. The first would prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against particular Internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management. The second principle would ensure that Internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement.
But critics say that official rules or even legislation is not needed because the FCC's principles have been sufficient in handling incidences where consumer rights are threatened. They say the principles and public outrage were enough to get Comcast, the largest cable operator in the U.S., from slowing down certain kinds of traffic on its network.
The biggest issue critics have with Net neutrality is that they believe strict rules could make it difficult for companies to manage their networks.
But Genachowski has said several times publicly that the intention of these rules is not to hamper network management or stifle the development of new business models but to simply protect the rights of consumers to use the Internet freely. The rules are intended to guarantee that Internet users can go to any Web site and access any online service they want.
The two other Democratic commissioners on the FCC support Genachowski's proposed rules, which means that new regulations are almost certain. But the two Republicans and several Republican congressional leaders oppose the new rules, which means the fight could go to Congress.
It's also very likely that that battle over Net neutrality will be fought in the courts. Comcast is appealing the FCC's slap on the wrist in court, arguing that the FCC doesn't have jurisdiction to enforce such rules.
But even though there is enough support among Democrats on the FCC to impose new rules, the details still need to be worked out. Thursday's FCC meeting will get the ball rolling on the process, which Genachowski has said he plans to be transparent with input from anyone.
One of the difficult issues he will have to deal with is how much flexibility network owners will have to manage their networks. Cable operators and phone companies, which control most of the broadband networks in the U.S., say they need to ensure that certain applications don't hog all of the bandwidth.
The FCC will also need to figure the best way to treat wireless networks. Everyone agrees that wireless networks have limited capacity and are therefore fundamentally different from DSL and cable modem services. But the FCC must decide if and how the new rules will apply to these networks.
"The FCC should preserve the existing wireless Internet that has fostered tremendous innovations, provided broadband for more people, and enabled new businesses," Steve Largent, president and CEO of the CTIA, the wireless industry's trade association, said in a statement. " We should all be mindful of the dangers of unintended consequences coming from new rules implemented for the wireless Internet. The fact is that wireless is different than wireline."