Much of the fight over how to handle net neutrality has been between the two industries that have the most obvious stake in it: cable companies and web services. Today, though, 60 tech companies, including Intel, IBM, and Qualcomm, have signed a letter opposing reclassifying broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — a solution that's favored by many of net neutrality's supporters and President Barack Obama himself. The letter is addressed to members of Congress and the FCC, and it warns that this stricter regulation would stop companies from investing in broadband.
"For almost twenty years, national leadership, on a bipartisan basis, has nurtured the broadband internet with a wise, effective, and restrained policy approach that supported the free flow of data, services, and ideas online while creating a climate that supported private investment in broadband networks," reads the letter. But "Title II is going to lead to a slowdown, if not a hold, in broadband build out, because if you don't know that you can recover on your investment, you won't make it."
"If you don't know that you can recover on your investment, you won't make it."
This is a familiar argument from broadband providers, who argue that Title II's regulations will be so strict and numerous that they'll make it difficult to operate a network. It's not purely talk: last month, AT&T said it was putting its super-fast fiber network development on hold during net neutrality negotiations. In that case, though, the problem wasn't just Title II, it was that AT&T didn't yet know what rules would be passed. Either way, this didn't stop it from launching a fiber network weeks later in North Carolina. FCC chair Tom Wheeler has said that while there are definitely parts of Title II that shouldn't apply to the internet, they can be stripped out of net neutrality rules.
This list's signatories are members of the Telecommunications Industry Association, which hosts the letter, and they're largely companies involved in network management, like router manufacturers Cisco and D-Link. This, they say, gives them a personal stake in the debate. They believe reduced investment would "flow downstream, landing first and squarely on technology companies like ours, and then working its way through the economy overall," including their customers. Cisco's CEO has previously expressed opposition to Title II.
This letter puts Intel, Qualcomm, and the rest in opposition to younger companies like Netflix and Kickstarter, which have participated in public protests in favor of Title II. The Internet Association, a major lobbying group that represents Netflix, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter among others, has also voiced support for Obama's reclassification proposal. They'll all be waiting until next year for a decision, however: the FCC originally said it hoped to have rules in place by the end of the year, but it's since delayed them until 2015.