But the FCC doesn’t make up its mind based on the number of comments anyway. The real issue is how to find people to read all of those comments, once they sort out the real ones.
Adding confusion to the whole rule-making process is that the commissioners' recent statements aren't exactly lending clarity. In his statement backing the recent NPRM proposal, FCC Chairman Pai used carefully chosen comments from other proceedings to support his claim that network investments are declining. Others, arguing for continuing the internet’s title II status, use other numbers to bolster their claims that investment is actually rising. Who’s right?
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn pointed out this conflict by invoking the famous cat thought experiment proposed by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger to demonstrate the bizarre implications of quantum mechanics.
“As far as the open internet rules go, this is Schrödinger’s NPRM: the text devoted to the open internet rules is so open-ended that the rules are both alive and dead until the Commission adopts an order in this proceeding,” Clyburn said in her prepared statement.
Regardless of whether this NPRM is either alive or dead, the FCC's current Chairman has shown a tendency to actually pay attention to public comments, unlike his predecessor who mostly ignored them. This means that a preponderance of well-thought-out comments favoring net neutrality might have an impact on how the final rule is written. But that’s not the same thing as ensuring net neutrality, if only because the courts have turned down such regulations under the legal framework that currently exists.
But those comments can also have another effect. If enough users send copies of their comments as attachments to letters to their legislators, they may get enough attention to revive the net neutrality legislation from 2015. There are two reasons for this. First it’s a non-partisan issue and second, it gives Congress a way to flex its muscles in an arena where the executive branch hasn’t preempted action.
Combine those reasons with the fact that since you’re not railing about health care, your representatives might take a closer look at the issue just from a sense of relief and because of the novelty of dealing with a fresh issue that appeals to the public interest.
But just knowing that there are a lot of comments in front of the FCC isn’t enough. Those comments to your senators and representatives also have to clearly and calmly state the reasons for or against net neutrality and the need for new legislation.
And there have to be a lot of such letters. Congress pays attention to the mail, but not so much email or social media. If net neutrality is important, this is the time to voice it.