Uber becomes talking point in net-neutrality debate

Uber might be one of the better analogies for explaining new federal rules for the Internet — for both critics and supporters of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) regulations.

The head of the U.S. Telecom Association, which has filed a lawsuit against the FCC over its net neutrality rules, compared the rapidly growing ride-hailing service to taxicabs, which are strictly regulated as “common carriers” under the law. New FCC rules that would reclassify Web provides to treat them like common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act would turn the vibrant Internet of today into the outdated taxicabs of yesterday, he claimed.

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“Uber is able to offer consumers a wide variety of applications and innovations that taxicabs cannot because taxicabs have to seek authority from the taxicab commission over their rates, their terms and their conditions,” Walter McCormick said during an interview on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” that will air this weekend. “That’s what we’re concerned about.”

“The Internet has been as free as Uber, but now under Title II common carrier regulations, the FCC is asserting regulations over rates, over terms and over conditions of service.”

However, Christopher Lewis, a vice president at the pro-net neutrality group Public Knowledge, similarly used Uber to argue in favor of the FCC’s rules, which were approved on a party-line vote in February.

Imagine that companies like Verizon or Comcast had their own, competing version of Uber, he said, and they decided to choke off people’s access to Uber or else charge the company more money in order to reach people’s phones.

“It would be a shame if companies like Uber had to negotiate with large duopoly companies that control access to the Internet in order to bring this great service to the American people,” he said on the same C-SPAN program. “So I think it’s a perfect example of why net neutrality rules are really important.”

Uber itself would not be classified as a common carrier under the FCC’s new rules, which supporters say are the only way to make sure that Internet service providers aren’t able to unfairly interfere with people’s access to the Web. Instead, it would be Web providers like Comcast and Verizon that are reclassified. 

Additionally, the FCC has specifically said that it won’t necessarily block “zero-rating” services — such as T-Mobile’s Music Freedom plan — which some companies use to exempt specific services from its monthly data caps.  

Still, the analogy encapsulates the bulk of each side’s argument over the rules. Those arguments will be all the more important in the coming months, as the new challenges begin to make their way to court.