Mozilla joins Netflix in calling for stronger net neutrality


U.S. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before the House Communications and Technology panel on Capitol Hill in Washington December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The maker of the popular Firefox browser is urging federal regulators to adopt tighter limits on broadband providers.

In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission and a  companion blog post on Monday, Mozilla has become the second tech titan after Netflix to take a position on the FCC's latest proposed rules for net neutrality, the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and not slowed or blocked. Mozilla argued that the commission should regulate a portion of what Internet service providers (ISPs) do under Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC's congressional charter. 

The rules haven't been made public yet — they'll be unveiled at an FCC meeting later this month. But consumer advocates have already criticized the FCC for suggesting that ISPs should be able to strike commercial deals with Internet companies like Google, Dropbox or Netflix that would give them faster, smoother access to broadband subscribers. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has pushed back against the criticism, saying he's committed to rolling out net neutrality protections sooner rather than later and that he won't hesitate to use Title II if the situation calls for it.

Mozilla's proposal looks a lot like what Columbia law professor Tim Wu suggested in a recent paper: Rather than think about Internet service in terms of an ISP and subscribers like you and me, think of it as a two-sided market in which ISPs are engaged in economic activity with consumers on the one hand and with Internet companies like Dropbox on the other. Mozilla proposes regulating the latter market using Title II — which the FCC has historically used to regulate phone companies strictly but decided not to apply to broadband companies. Mozilla is also calling for the rules to apply to wireless carriers, which were exempt from the FCC's 2010 net neutrality rules that were struck down by a federal court in January.

"Even if Chairman Wheeler stands ready to use the FCC’s full authority to establish stronger protections later should they become needed, Internet users and developers cannot know whether future FCC chairs will maintain vigilance," wrote Mozilla's top policy analyst, Chris Riley. "In contrast, clear authority and meaningful, enforceable rules would provide lasting certainty."

FCC spokesperson Mark Wigfield said the agency had received Mozilla's petition and was reviewing it.

Most tech companies have so far avoided commenting on the new net neutrality proposal. But it appears that may be starting to change.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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