The EFF is supporting a letter signed by 40 ISPs appealing for continuance of Title II protections.
The EFF is supporting a letter signed by 40 ISPs appealing for continuance of Title II protections.

The battle over control of the internet pathways – and who has rights to customer data – rages on.

Yesterday, a letter signed by more than 40 internet service providers (ISPs) was delivered to Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In contrast to the argument the FCC chairman has been making – namely that open internet rules harm ISPs – the message expressed support for the Open Internet Order and its underlying legal foundation under Title II of the Communications Act.

In the letter, the ISPs also assert they "have long supported network neutrality as a core principle for the deployment of networks for the American public to access the internet."

The conflict stems from a Congressional ruling last March that repealed broadband policy rules, according to a post on the blog of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), written by Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the nonprofit whose stated purpose is to defend civil liberties in the digital world. At that moment, the classification of broadband services shifted to "common carrier service," regulated by Title II of the Communications Act, rather than an "information service," regulated by Title I of the same Act.

A furor arose from those opposing the change, who argued that small players were being put at an unfair advantage from the bigger players, like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon. Reversing the 2015 decision – reclassifying broadband as a "common carrier" service – eliminates protections provided by Title II, the message to the FCC chairman stated.

"If [Chairman Pai] succeeds, not only are Section 201 and Section 202 – the core provisions that support network neutrality – on the chopping block, but also a whole host of other active provisions that protect competition in the broadband market," Falcon wrote.

Another issue he pointed to is the fact that ISPs can't determine their legal obligations with consumer data. While he surmises that the larger players plied Congress with millions of dollars in order to win access to the vast trove of customer data the providers retain in their databases, the smaller players are not interested in selling their customers' personal information to third parties for profit, at least not without their permission.

In fact, he wrote, almost all of these players were vehemently opposed to Congress repealing the privacy rules. The plan by the FCC chairman would remove the Section 222 privacy obligations for all broadband companies. "In essence, Chairman Pai's plan would be the nail in the coffin for broadband privacy that Congress started with its privacy repeal earlier this year," Falcon asserted.

"Network neutrality – the idea that ISPs should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services – is a principle that must be upheld to protect the future of our open Internet," a spokesperson from the EFF said in a statement sent to SC Media on Wednesday. "It's a principle that's faced many threats over the years, such as ISPs forging packets to tamper with certain kinds of traffic or slowing down or even outright blocking protocols or applications."