The U.S. National Association of Manufacturers on Wednesday wrote to congressional and Federal Communications Commission leaders to oppose potential stricter regulations for Internet service providers.
The FCC is working on new rules that would dictate Internet service providers' freedom to manage web traffic on their networks, aiming to ensure that ISPs do not discriminate against any content in ways that could harm competition or consumers.
President Barack Obama last month urged the FCC to set the strictest rules possible to protect net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. For that, he suggested a legal pathway that would reclassify Internet service so it is regulated like a utility, which telecom and cable companies vehemently protest.
"Current proposals to regulate the Internet with early 20th Century–era laws severely threaten continued growth... We urge you to oppose any efforts to unnecessarily regulate the open Internet," more than 100 members of the NAM wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Though business groups NAM and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have both previously submitted comments to the FCC opposing utility-style Internet regulations, Wednesday's letter illustrates the heated and multifaceted political battle brewing for the FCC's new rules, expected next year.
Internet providers Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc are among 14,000 members of the manufacturers' association.
The NAM letter's signatories included packaging company Ball Corp, tools and hardware maker Stanley Black & Decker Inc, auto technology and parts company Tenneco Inc, thermal equipment maker Modine Manufacturing Co and industrial conglomerate Emerson Electric Co.
The letter also went to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients and Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman.
"The Internet and technology is a critical tool for manufacturers to grow their business," NAM Technology Policy President Brian Raymond said in an interview. "(Our members) get concerned if the government is going to slow down their business in any way and they see this as one of those ways."
Raymond cited as one worrying indicator AT&T's recent warning that it will pause investments in new high-speed Internet connections until net neutrality rules are settled.
"Whenever there's a pause in investment by any kind of company due to regulatory uncertainty, it's going to have a trickle-down effect on the whole manufacturing community," he said.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; editing by Andrew Hay)