Dec 19, 2017

What internet firms are saying now that net neutrality is no more

Net neutrality protests outside a Verizon store in Chicago. Photo: Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules set to go into effect next year, attention is turning to the pledges internet service providers have made to consumers about how they'll handle web traffic.

The bottom line: Many are taking a fairly hard line against blocking or slowing down the delivery of content. It gets more complicated when it comes to whether internet companies will allow a website, such as Netflix, to pay for a "fast lane" to prioritize its content over sites' content.

What they're saying:

  • Cox says it doesn't "block, throttle or otherwise interfere with consumers' desire to go where they want on the Internet." It has not made a public commitment about whether it will hold off on providing fast lanes to websites that want to pay for them but a spokesman said it had no plans to offer the service.
  • Comcast says it won't block access to content or slow down its delivery. It says it has "no plans" to create paid prioritization agreements — but did not explicitly promise never to engage in the activity.
  • Charter (whose broadband brand is called Spectrum) says it won't throttle or block "lawful content" or discriminate against it. It says it has no plans to offer paid prioritization.
  • A spokesperson for CenturyLink pointed Axios to a document where the company says it does not "block, prioritize, or degrade any Internet sourced or destined traffic based on application, source, destination, protocol, or port unless it does so in connection with" an established security practice.
  • AT&T says it doesn't block or throttle. It hasn't made an outright pledge not to engage in paid prioritization but does say it doesn't currently have the technical capabilities to prioritize a website's traffic at its request.
  • A Verizon spokesperson said that the company does "not block or throttle content and that's the bottom line." He did not respond to a question about whether the company was making a similar commitment on fast lanes.
  • T-Mobile declined to comment and hasn't made explicit comments on blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. It has said that it "will support an open internet."
  • Sprint says that it does "not block sites based on content or subject, unless the Internet address hosts unlawful content or is blocked as part of an opted-in customer service." A spokeswoman declined to answer a question about whether it would throttle or offer paid fast lanes for content.

Be smart: Internet providers are carefully choosing their words — and with good reason. These are the pledges that regulators can hold the companies to. The FCC and FTC can take action against the companies if they are seen as deceiving consumers or, potentially, violating the FCC's new rules requiring the companies to publicly disclose if they are engaging in blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. It also means there's a big difference between saying a company doesn't currently do something and that it never will.

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