Tech giants push feds on Internet traffic fights

A trade group representing giants in the tech industry — including Google, Facebook and Netflix — is asking regulators to get involved when Internet providers and websites fight over traffic.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should intervene when Internet providers abuse “interconnection deals” — the deals websites make to connect to Internet providers’ servers for better access to users, according to the Internet Association.

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“Interconnection should not be used as a choke point to artificially slow traffic or extract unreasonable tolls from” websites, the group said in comments to the agency filed Monday.

The FCC is accepting public comments until Tuesday as it looks to rewrite its net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing users’ access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year.

While the original rules did not address interconnection, public interest groups have pressured the agency to examine the deals as it rewrites its net neutrality rules.

Last month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his agency would be probing these interconnection deals after a few high-profile disputes involving Netflix.

The Internet Association commended the FCC for looking into the largely unexamined interconnection deals and asked that the agency “be prepared to exercise its authority to prevent any abuse that it uncovers.”

“Consumers could effectively end up with a ‘fast’ lane and a ‘slow’ lane, despite the fact they are paying for the same quality and speed of broadband service, based on whether companies are willing and able to pay such additional interconnection fees,” the group said.

Interconnection deals became a hot button issue earlier this year when Netflix — a member of the Internet Association — publicly decried deals it made with Comcast and Verizon to boost users’ streaming experience.

In the first half of this year, Netflix reached interconnection deals with Comcast and Verizon to directly connect to their servers, bypassing the traditional middlemen companies.

While Internet providers say the interconnection deals are in the best interest of both companies and their customers, Netflix has opposed the deals.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings accused Comcast of slowing traffic so the Internet video company would be forced to pay an “arbitrary tax” to provide quality streaming to its users.

The company then began displaying notices on slow-loading videos, blaming the slow-loads on congestion on Internet providers’ — including Verizon’s — networks.

The notices sparked a public feud with Verizon that involved the telecom company threatening to sue Netflix if it didn’t stop showing users the slow-load notices.

In its comments, the Internet Association warned that Internet providers’ abuse of interconnection deals with websites could harm consumers as much as directly blocking or slowing a user’s access to those sites.

The group also repeated previous calls from member companies for the FCC’s new net neutrality rules to apply to cellphone networks — a departure from the old rules, which only applied to wired Internet networks — and to prevent discrimination against certain Internet traffic.

“Segregation of the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes will distort the market, discourage innovation and harm Internet users,” Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman said in a statement.

“The FCC must act to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and apply them equally to both wireless and wireline providers.”

The group did not weigh in on whether the agency should reclassify Internet providers to treat them like the more heavily-regulated telephone companies but said in a statement about the filing that no option “should be taken off the table as this discussion evolves.”

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