Net-Freedom Firestorm Erupts at FCC

7,732 heated warnings on both sides of the issue arrive at deadline for comments

(Also read: "MPAA Tries to Mend Fences With Studios After Net Neutrality Blow-Up.")

The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to add net neutrality rules for the web is quickly erupting into a major battleground.

A last-minute flood of 7,732 heated warnings on both sides of the issue arrived from consumer groups, cable, phone, technology companies and individual consumers as the deadline for comments from interested parties  expired Thursday.

The FCC in October proposed a new rule that would bar internet service providers from discriminating in how they treat any lawful content. The rule would prevent providers from giving favored web content faster pipes to consumers but could also limit attempts to manage internet traffic.

While some of the last-minute comments about the proposal came from Hollywood unions and the Motion Picture Association of America, a number of other companies and consumer groups weighed in at length.

One warning came from consumer electronics and computer companies and from consumer groups, calling "problematic" an attempt to use net neutrality to screen out copyrighted and pirated content.

Concern over piracy has been one of the largest issues for the Hollywood-based organizations.

Most of the comments, however, were about what the FCC should do overall on net neutrality, and whether regulation should apply to mobile networks.

The FCC policy against regulation “has stimulated hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in broadband networks,” Joe Waz, Comcast’s senior VP of external affairs and public policy counsel, warned in a blog posting, shortly after Comcast filed comments urging the FCC to hold back on regulation.

Waz suggested the FCC “not mess with success.”

(Comcast, concurrent with the FCC’s investigation, is currently in court appealing an FCC decison that the cable company acted illegally when it tried to partially block BitTorrent video downloads.)

AT&T took a similar stance to Comcast’s.

“The internet has never been healthier or more open, and for more than four years running now, the existing policy framework has successfully brought us an explosion in innovation, investment and more and better services and devices,” wrote Bob Quinn, AT&T’s VP, federal regulatory.

He argued that as consumers take up more and more bandwidth, “Broadband owners need to manage that information flow in ways to ensure the internet continues to work and doesn’t start to look like the Capital Beltway on a Friday afternoon.”

AT&T also warned that too broad an action by the FCC could upset the delicate balance that “both preserves openness and encourages companies to invest in infrastructure.”

Google’s Rick Whitt, the company’s Washington telecom and media counsel, took the other side, arguing net neutrality regulation was vital.

“There’s a lot of awesome stuff on the internet: Cats talking LOLspeak. Iranian dissidents tweeting. Live traffic updates. Science experiments. All of these things, and so much more, are possible because of the openness of the internet.

"Any entrepreneur with an idea has always been able to create a website and share their ideas globally — without paying extra tolls to have their content seen by other users. An open Internet made Google possible 11 years ago, and it’s going to make the next Google possible,” he wrote.

Several consumer groups took a similar position.

"The basic DNA of openness must not be destroyed in the short-sighted pursuit of monopoly profits on the part of the private companies that have made billions by selling access to this essential resource," said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press.

Thursday night’s filings also made clear that aside from the argument about whether the FCC should impose net neutrality – a bar on internet providers offering favored content better service than less favored but also legal content — there could be fights on how much is needed to remove pirated content.

The Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and several consumer groups in joint comments suggested screening would be difficult and could result in legal content being blocked.