FCC Window for Net Neutrality Comments Closes, With a Bang

The FCC, after offering an additional period for public comment on pending net neutrality rules, received record levels of response.

FCC net neutrality

Today marks the closure of an added 60-day window during which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been collecting public comments on the so-called "net neutrality" rules. 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 re-opened the window for public comment, and was met with historic levels of response.

While the FCC hasn't said exactly how many comments it received, in a July 14 blog post, FCC Chief Financial Officer David Bray shared tallies of the numbers of comments received hourly, as well as by email each week.

The hour tallies show the spikes in response that occurred after comedian John Oliver, on his Sunday evening program Last Week Tonight, delivered a 13-minute rallying cry, June 1, in favor of net neutrality. Oliver likened hiring a former cable industry lobbyist (Wheeler) to run the FCC to hiring a dingo to babysit children, and called on all Internet commenters—politely addressing them as "monsters"—to "seize your moment" and "focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction." Specifically, the FCC site.

By Monday, the site had crashed under the strain of more comments than it was accustomed to. Between midnight and 1 a.m. on the day of the program, the electronic comment filing system (ECFS) received seven comments and seven open Internet comments were made; during the same one hour after the program aired, 569 comments were filed to the ECFS and 534 open Internet comments were made. During the midnight hour on June 3, as the clip continued its viral course, the FCC received 1,191 comments to the ECFS in one hour and 1,110 open Internet comments, and for days afterward the numbers stayed high.

“The unprecedented outcry from nearly a million everyday Americans supporting net neutrality makes FCC Chair Tom Wheeler's choice crystal clear: He can side with the interests of everyday Internet users or telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner," Keith Rouda, an organizer with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told eWEEK in a statement. "The right thing for the FCC to do is to listen to those at NoSlowLane.com and across the Internet who are calling for the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility like water—equally accessible to all."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., took to Facebook July 11 to call for Title II reclassification—which would treat the Internet as a utility—and to say that, with nine other senators, he had signed a letter to Wheeler calling for "clear, strong protections for the Open Internet and all Americans."

The May 9 letter went on to say that "paid prioritization," or allowing companies to pay for faster service, would "allow discrimination and irrevocably change the Internet as we know it." Small businesses, content creators and others, they added, "must not be held hostage by an increasingly consolidated broadband industry."

The Internet Association, a group comprising more than two dozen of the world's most successful Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter among them), also made its voice known in a last-ditch July 14 letter to the FCC.

"Segregation of the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes will distort the market, discourage innovation and harm Internet users," Association CEO Michael Beckerman wrote. "The FCC must act to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and apply them equally to both wireless and wireline providers."

The FCC's Bray, in his blog post, added that while the initial round of comments has closed, the FCC will continue to welcome "engagement from all interested parties."

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