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Web giants call for equal Internet traffic rules

As public comment on an FCC proposal wraps up, a group of 36 Web companies, including Google, Netflix, and Amazon, reiterates opposition to paying ISPs for so-called fast lane access.

Protesters gathered outside the FCC in May to express concerns about the commission's plans to reinstate Net neutrality rules. CBS

Major Web companies called on US regulators to establish rules requiring all Web traffic be treated the same way -- regardless of what network it's routed through -- weighing in yet again on Net neutrality issues as federal officials consider new rules governing the open Internet.

The Internet Association -- a trade group that represents 36 companies including Google, Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Yahoo, and PayPal -- submitted comments (PDF) to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday to formally oppose a proposal to let Internet service providers charge content providers for priority access in their networks.

The FCC is currently weighing a proposal to establish guidelines to protect the open Internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has suggested a so-called fast lane for priority traffic on the Internet as part of his proposal -- an idea that critics say could lead to much slower Internet service for those unwilling to pay extra.

The same Web giants have spoken up in favor of Net neutrality before, though this time they have taken a specific stand on wireless and wireline traffic -- saying both should be treated using the same rules. Public comment on the latest FCC proposal closes Tuesday.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers and governments should treat all Internet traffic the same. This means that ISPs should not block or slow down traffic on their broadband networks based on individual users, the type of traffic those users are accessing, or the type of service that is sending the content.

The effort to reinstate these open Internet rules started after prior rules were tossed out by a federal appeals court in January.

"The Internet is threatened by broadband Internet access providers who would turn the open, best-efforts Internet into a pay-for-priority platform more closely resembling cable television than today's Internet," the group said in its formal comments.

The latest move by Internet companies, such as Google and Amazon, could bring the Net neutrality debate back to an important issue that outraged many consumer advocates when the FCC's original Open Internet rules were accepted in 2010.

Back then the FCC agreed to a compromise that would treat wireless and wireline broadband traffic differently. According to those 2010 rules, wireline broadband providers would have to adhere to stricter rules than wireless providers.

For example, under the old rules, even though wireline and wireless providers were required to be transparent in how they manage their traffic, the rules diverged when it came to blocking traffic or applications. Wireline providers were strictly prohibited from blocking any sites or applications, but wireless providers could block applications and services if they felt those services interfered with the performance of the network. The only caveat was that they could not block traffic that competed directly with their own services.

When the 2010 rules were first introduced, it was this issue of wireless and wireline broadband services being treated differently that provoked the loudest outcries from consumer advocates. They argued that all access to the Internet should be treated equally.

Now, more than two months into the current debate, it looks like the issue is once again bubbling to the surface as the FCC considers public comments on a proposal it made public in May.

Ironically, the compromise that resulted in the more lenient treatment of wireless services under the Open Internet regulation was a result of negotiations between Verizon and Google, which jointly proposed the solution to the FCC. Four years later as the FCC goes back to the drawing board, Google is now leading the charge along with other high profile technology companies, like Netflix and Amazon, to make sure the new rules that the FCC is developing will treat wireless and wireline broadband services the same.

Update, 9:23 a.m. PT: Adds more background on Net neutrality.