Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon were signatories to a strongly-worded protest letter attacking a proposal to give big corporations higher-speed Internet access while relegating smaller users to relatively slower speeds of data transfer online.

Paid prioritisation

After Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, put forth a plan last month to allow broadband providers to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest ‘lanes,’ 100 top tech companies wrote that the FCC, “instead of permitting individualised bargaining and discrimination… should protect users and Internet companies… against blocking, discrimination and paid prioritisation…”

A vote on the plan is scheduled for May 15.

Some consider the FCC, which has been under significant pressure since the latest rules were proposed, to be seeking a middle ground between preserving absolute ‘net neutrality,’ the concept that “that no providers of legal Internet content should face discrimination in providing offerings to consumers, and that users should have equal access to see any legal content they choose,” and preventing broadband Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable from slowing down certain websites accessed by individual consumers.

Bigger protest planned

This week’s protest letter may only be a first step in a larger grassroots-style protest hinted at in some reports, especially as many of the same companies participated in a large-scale protest in 2012 that knocked out the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, which was also know as SOPA.

While the companies’ fears may be exacerbated by reports that the two Republican Commissioners of the FCC were “broadly opposed to regulation of Internet traffic,” and were expected to vote against any net-neutrality rules that they consider to be unnecessarily burdensome on Internet providers, they are likely to find support from the Democratic members of the Commission.

‘Gutting the open net’

One of them, Jessica Rosenworcel, said this week that she has “real concerns” with Mr. Wheeler’s proposal, adding that she felt, “We should delay our consideration of his rules by at least a month…I believe that rushing headlong into a rule-making next week fails to respect the public response to his proposal.”

Another Democratic Commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, said in a blogpost that she was “listening” to the thousands of people who have spoken out on the issue. However, she addedding, “I would have prohibited pay for priority arrangements altogether.”

With speculation mounting that the FCC intended to “gut the open Internet rule,” the tech firms warned in their letter that if the Commission enabled phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them, it would “represent a grave threat to the Internet.”

Need for certainty

They further urged the FCC to take necessary steps to ensure “certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low,” pleading that such rules were essential for the very future of the Internet.

Among the other major technology companies signing the letter were Netflix, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Tumbler, Reddit, Yahoo, Ebay, Etsy, Vonage, DropBox, FourSquare and Zynga.

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