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Boston tech firms, Markey, vow net neutrality fight

Flanked by leaders of major Massachusetts technology firms, Democratic US Senator Edward Markey vowed to fight against plans by the Trump administration to rescind so-called net neutrality regulations aimed at ensuring equal treatment for all users of the Internet.

Markey met with executives of 14 major companies, including General Electric Co., TripAdvisor , Wayfair LLC, iRobot Corp., and Microsoft Corp., at the Boston headquarters of data backup company Carbonite Inc. At a post-meeting press conference, Markey said the coming fight over net neutrality “is going to create a national debate about the Internet the likes of which we have never seen before.”

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Many companies that do business on the Internet are worried about a plan by Trump’s Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, to set aside the net neutrality policies of the Obama administration. In 2015, the FCC voted to begin regulating broadband Internet service providers as public utilities similar to telephone companies. This was done to prevent Internet companies from discriminating against certain users of their networks.

The fear is that without net neutrality an Internet provider might make its own online services work better than those offered by competitors. For example, the provider might block or slow down access to rival online video services, forcing customers to use the provider’s own video service.

Internet providers have said that such regulation is unnecessary because they don’t engage in such practices. They have also argued that the policy subjects Internet service providers to onerous regulations that hamper their ability to offer new services to customers.

“Internet service providers have always been committed to delivering an open Internet experience that puts consumers in charge of their online activity,” the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said.“That commitment has been unequivocal and will remain.”

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But the technology companies at Friday’s conference said that without tough FCC oversight, Internet providers will be in a position to cripple or crush online businesses with impunity.

Carbonite chief executive Mohamad Ali said several Internet providers are planning to launch services to compete against his company’s backup products, which require a high-speed Internet connection. Without net neutrality, these companies could make Carbonite’s backups run slower than their own.

“If they’re able to then give preferential speed to their customers over ours,” said Ali, “that damages our company, that damages our job creation.”

Other critics of Pai’s deregulation plan warned that it would stifle the development of small Internet-based startup companies and weaken US companies competing against foreign rivals.

Pai’s plan to drop the net neutrality regulations is the latest in a series of aggressive moves to deregulate the telecom industry. Already, the FCC under Pai has dropped a plan that would have eliminated the need for consumers to rent set-top boxes from cable TV companies increased the number of TV stations that can be owned by broadcasting conglomerates; and lifted price caps on business telephone service. In addition, the US Congress voted to overturn an Obama-era FCC privacy policy that set tougher limits on the ability of Internet providers to sell sensitive information about their customers without their permission.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.

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