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Wireless companies: Don’t put ‘fast lane’ rules on us

Wireless companies are pushing back against an effort to ban them from slowing or blocking people’s access to the Internet.

CTIA-The Wireless Association head Meredith Attwell Baker sent a letter to members of Congress on Thursday telling them to pressure the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) not to extend its net neutrality rules to cellphones and tablets. Baker’s group includes phone giants AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile as well as device manufacturers, Dish Network and other companies. 

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Their service has “physical limitations and policy constraints,” she wrote, which means that “mobile networks may need to subject different uses or users to differentiated treatment on a real-time basis to provide all consumers with the level of service they have come to expect."

Wireless companies were exempt from the FCC’s old net neutrality rules — which sought to bar Internet service companies like Comcast from changing people’s service speeds depending on which website they visit — but Chairman Tom Wheeler has been dropping hints about making a change this time around. Wheeler’s new proposal has drawn fire from critics who warn it would allow companies to pay Web providers like Comcast for quicker access to users, which could amount to “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet.

Tech companies including Google and Microsoft have also told the agency to include wireless companies in its rules, and Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Democrats revive debate over calling impeachment witnesses LIVE COVERAGE: Senate trial moves to closing arguments MORE (D-Mass.) said on Wednesday that unfettered wireless access to the Web is as important as wired broadband.

Baker told lawmakers not to think of it that way.  

“Contrary to the assertions of some that wireless broadband’s success justifies a heavier regulatory burden, the industry’s record of investment, innovation and expanded consumer choice strongly suggests that the FCC got it right in 2010,” Baker wrote on Thursday. “What’s more, the factors that led the Commission to treat wireless differently in 2010 remain just as valid today.”

The industry has said that the technology on which it operates is distinctly different from the cable wires that connect people’s homes or offices to the Internet, and should not be treated the same. 

Major phone companies sometimes slow speeds for people using a lot of data at peak hours, which they say is necessary to fairly manage their networks. 

— Updated at 3:14 p.m.