The FCC has collected more than a half million comments on its latest proposal to establish rules of the road for the Internet, with a deadline on Tuesday for weighing in on how or if the agency should adopt regulations prohibiting Internet providers from blocking, slowing or prioritizing web traffic.
An FCC official said that they have received 677,000 comments as of Monday. By contrast, the FCC received some 1.4 million comments following the notorious Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl halftime show and, according to the Wall Street Journal, the agency received more than 2 million comments over a 2003 order on rules for media ownership.
“Believe it or not, every single #netneutrality comment will be read by @FCC staff. Staff will sort & summarize,” Gigi Sohn, the FCC’s special counsel for external affairs, wrote in a Twitter chat on Monday.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler proposed rules in April that would prohibit Internet providers from “commercially unreasonable” practices in the way that they deliver content to the consumer.
Critics blasted the proposed rules as too weak to prevent Internet providers from prioritizing content, such as websites or video that pay for such special access to consumers. Wheeler has said that he believes that such “paid prioritization” would be prohibited under the rules, but the FCC is also asking for comments on whether such “fast lanes” should be banned outright. The FCC also is asking whether the rules should apply to wireless providers, not just wireline, and whether the FCC should consider a bolder regulatory step. That would be to classify the Internet like a utility, a move that would give the commission greater oversight over broadband.
After Tuesday’s deadline, the FCC will take reply comments until Sept. 10, with the expectation that the commission will rule by the end of the year.
Among those submitting comments on Monday was the Internet Assn., which represents Google, Facebook, Netflix, eBay and a host of other Internet giants.
The Internet Assn.’s Michael Beckerman called for “simple, light-touch rules to ensure that the Internet remains open, dynamic and spontaneous.” He called for rules that prevent providers from blocking or discriminating against certain types of content, and that the regulations should apply “regardless of whether a consumer accesses the Internet from a fixed wireline or a mobile wireless access provider.”
Beckerman wrote that that the “commercial reasonable” proposal would fall short of preventing providers from discrimination or blocking of content. Instead, he wrote that the association supports rules that are “clearer and more straightforward prohibitions against blocking and paid-prioritization.”
“Charging for enhanced or prioritized access — essentially, charging to discriminate against or degrade competing content — undermines the Internet’s level playing field,” he wrote.
Berckerman also wrote that the FCC should find ways to prevent Internet providers from “market abuses” when it comes to establishing “peering” arrangements. The interconnection issue is the subject of a separate FCC investigation, but the Internet Assn. said that it “should not be used as a choke point to artificially slow traffic or extract unreasonable tolls from over-the-top providers.”
The association, however, stopped short of endorsing a reclassification of the Internet as a utility.
Meanwhile, the National Cable and Telecommunications Assn., which represents major Internet providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, said that it planned to file comments that warn the FCC against reclassifying the Internet like a utility, suggesting that it “would likely fail to survive judicial scrutiny” and impose costs and regulatory restrictions “that would deter ongoing investments and innovation.”
“If further action is necessary, it can be done in a manner that will avoid the tangible harms of [reclassification], that can be firm enough to prevent unreasonable discrimination, that can be flexible enough to consider new facts and circumstances as the Internet continues to grow and evolve, and that can be both platform and application agnostic,” the NCTA said.