The United States House Energy and Commerce Committee has invited major technology companies, including Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon and Netflix, to attend a hearing on “Ground Rules for Internet Ecosystems,” according to a statement issued by panel chairman Greg Walden on Tuesday.
The hearing is scheduled to take place on September 7 and comes in response to a strong consensus “across party lines and across industries” that it’s high time for Congress to set clear net neutrality ground rules, Walden explained. For that reason, the committee decided to invite top internet service providers and edge providers, including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Charter, so that they can share their positions on the matter.
At the moment, the US Federal Communications Commission is considering eliminating the 2015 Obama administration net neutrality rules, which effectively reclassified internet service as a public utility. These rules prohibit broadband providers from “halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data, except for legitimate network management purposes such as easing congestion or blocking spam,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In that sense, net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source and without favoring or blocking any particular products or websites.
The absence of adequate net neutrality rules could potentially give rise to instances of anti-competitive behavior such as throttling and blocking, experts claim. To get a sense of the idea, consider internet service providers who are also media providers. Comcast, for example, also owns NBC, while AT&T owns DirecTV and, naturally, these network providers would find it more profitable to push their own media products online instead of those of their competitors, like Netflix or YouTube. Without net neutrality rules, these providers would be able to slow down or block websites of their media competitors, making consumers more likely to shift to their own channels.
According to chairman Walden, almost everyone agrees about the need for fundamental principles to prevent such anti-competitive behavior, so there are good chances that the panel will achieve a lasting solution.