Almost two dozen high-profile technologists have penned an open letter requesting that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) cancel an upcoming vote to repeal existing net neutrality rules.
December 14 could prove to be a key day for internet freedom in the U.S., after FCC chair Ajit Pai scheduled a vote he hopes will remove the regulations that currently prevent telecommunication companies from creating a “tiered internet,” or one that would treat various kinds of online content differently. Many claim that the order, dubbed somewhat dubiously the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” would reverse over a decade of work to protect internet users and preserve net neutrality.
Now, as a last-ditch attempt to stave off changes to existing net neutrality regulation, 21 renowned internet pioneers and engineers have written to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, as well as the House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, asking them to “urge FCC Chairman Pai to cancel the FCC’s vote.”
Among the tech luminaries putting their names to the letter are Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist who created the World Wide Web; Vint Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the internet and latterly an internet evangelist at Google; and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak.
The full list of signatories is as follows:
- Frederick J. Baker, IETF Chair 1996-2001, ISOC Board Chair 2002-2006
- Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
- Steven M. Bellovin, Internet pioneer, FTC Chief Technologist, 2012-2013
- Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web & professor, MIT
- John Borthwick, CEO, Betaworks
- Scott O. Bradner, Internet pioneer
- Vinton G. Cerf, Internet pioneer
- Stephen D. Crocker, Internet pioneer
- Whitfield Diffie, inventor of public-key cryptography
- David J. Farber, Internet pioneer, FCC Chief Technologist 1999-2000
- Dewayne Hendricks, CEO Tetherless Access
- Martin E. Hellman, Internet security pioneer
- Brewster Kahle, Internet pioneer, founder, Internet Archive
- Susan Landau, cybersecurity expert & professor, Tufts University
- Theodor Holm Nelson, hypertext pioneer
- David P. Reed, Internet pioneer
- Jennifer Rexford, Chair of Computer Science, Princeton University
- Ronald L. Rivest, co-inventor of RSA public-key encryption algorithm
- Paul Vixie, CEO, Farsight Security
- Stephen Wolff, Internet pioneer
- Steve Wozniak, co-founder, Apple Computer
The crux of their argument is that the FCC essentially doesn’t understand how the internet works. “It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology,” the letter reads. “These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.”
Moreover, the letter argues that the FCC did nothing to correct its misunderstandings and proceeded to base its “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” on the aforementioned “technical flaws.”
“The current technically-incorrect order discards decades of careful work by FCC chairs from both parties, who understood the threats that Internet access providers could pose to open markets on the Internet,” the letter goes on to say.
It also criticizes the millions of online comments ignored by the FCC, its failure to hold an open public meeting with citizens and experts, and refusal to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOA) requests.
The full letter reads as follows:
We are the pioneers and technologists who created and now operate the Internet, and some of the innovators and business people who, like many others, depend on it for our livelihood. We are writing to respectfully urge you to call on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to cancel the December 14 vote on the FCC’s proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order (WC Docket No. 17-108).
This proposed Order would repeal key network neutrality protections that prevent Internet access providers from blocking content, websites and applications, slowing or speeding up services or classes of service, and charging online services for access or fast lanes to Internet access providers’ customers. The proposed Order would also repeal oversight over other unreasonable discrimination and unreasonable practices, and over interconnection with last-mile Internet access providers. The proposed Order removes long-standing FCC oversight over Internet access providers without an adequate replacement to protect consumers, free markets and online innovation.
It is important to understand that the FCC’s proposed Order is based on a flawed and factually inaccurate understanding of Internet technology. These flaws and inaccuracies were documented in detail in a 43-page-long joint comment signed by over 200 of the most prominent Internet pioneers and engineers and submitted to the FCC on July 17, 2017.
Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings, but instead premised the proposed Order on the very technical flaws the comment explained. The current technically-incorrect order discards decades of careful work by FCC chairs from both parties, who understood the threats that Internet access providers could pose to open markets on the Internet.
The experts’ comment was not the only one the FCC ignored. Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet. The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately.
Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order.
Furthermore, the FCC’s online comment system has been plagued by major problems that the FCC has not had time to investigate. These include bot-generated comments that impersonated Americans, including dead people, and an unexplained outage of the FCC’s on-line comment system that occurred at the very moment TV host John Oliver was encouraging Americans to submit comments to the system.
Compounding our concern, the FCC has failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about these incidents and failed to provide information to a New York State Attorney General’s investigation of them.
We therefore call on you to urge FCC Chairman Pai to cancel the FCC’s vote. The FCC’s rushed and technically incorrect proposed Order to repeal net neutrality protections without any replacement is an imminent threat to the Internet we worked so hard to create. It should be stopped.