A record 3 million comments about proposed rules for net neutrality came in to the Federal Communications Commission by a Sept. 15 deadline for comments, and now the agency will analyze the feedback and decide how to proceed on rules that will define the Internet into the future.
The latest FCC rules proposals garnered lots of comments because they include a controversial proposal that would allow content companies to push some content faster to consumers for an extra fee, rather than providing the same service to all users. Critics pan the idea, while supporters say it is a reasonable idea that serves those willing to pay for it, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
"The FCC's proposed rules would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down Websites, but open the door for content companies to pay for special access to consumers, essentially creating faster premium lanes," The Journal reported. "The proposal has generated a backlash from proponents of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Many of the 3 million comments urge the FCC to ban such special deals, known as paid prioritization."
The issue has been so polarizing that some supporters of net neutrality are asking the FCC to "reclassify broadband service as a utility under telecommunications law, which would subject it to greater regulation," The Journal reported. Critics argue that such an action would harm the industry and continued investments in faster Internet speeds.
An FCC spokesman did not respond to an eWEEK request for comments for this article.
In a related matter, the FCC is also pondering whether proposed net neutrality rules should cover mobile broadband providers, as well. The FCC is today holding an Open Internet Roundtable discussion on the mobile broadband proposals at its headquarters in Washington.
In August, President Obama took a strong stand on net neutrality when he told reporters at a business forum that an Internet that is equitably available to all is one that will allow the most innovation and fairness, without different rates or conditions for different users. The president's comments came as the issue of net neutrality continues to be a focus of government and public discussion.
In July, a 60-day public comment period by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended as the agency collected more comments on net neutrality discussions, eWEEK reported at the time. In January, a U.S. District Court dismissed the FCC's ability to enforce net neutrality—an FCC guiding principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Since then, and amid much debate, the commission has been working to put new, enforceable rules in place.
On May 15, the commission voted 3-2 in favor of Chairman Tom Wheeler's Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking—a new rules proposal. While the proposal insists that no Internet service provider (ISP) can purposefully slow down any type of traffic, it allows for the controversial possibility that companies, under "commercially reasonable" terms, could pay for extra-fast service.
With the vote—which didn't confirm the proposal, but moved forward the task of establishing firm rules—Wheeler reopened the window for public comment and was met with historic levels of response. The FCC did not release exact counts of the responses they received, but they apparently crashed the site under the strain.
As Obama was running for the presidency in 2007, he pledged to support net neutrality if elected.