The bell is sounding in the second round of the FCC fight over the future of the open Internet. As thousands more comments flood into an agency already deluged with more letters than it has ever seen on any single subject, both sides are using every trick in the book before heading back to their corners.
In advance of a midnight deadline for comments, one consumer group, Fight for the Future, on Monday parked an 11-foot-wide video billboard outside the FCC headquarters and played videos urging the FCC to take a strong stance toward requiring Net Neutrality.
Meanwhile, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association launched a radio, print and Web ad campaign urging the agency to maintain a “light touch” in considering any regulation, a position also taken by former New Hampshire Republican Sen. John Sununu and former Tennessee Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr, at a press conference in behalf of Broadband for America.
The latest comments came from consumer groups, entertainment industry unions, technology industry companies and Congress. Initially more than 1 million comments went to the FCC as the agency and Chairman Tom Wheeler (above) weigh what rules to impose on Internet traffic by broadband providers, both through wired and wireless connections.
Supporters of a strong open Internet urged the FCC to ban Internet service providers from charging content providers tolls or “paid prioritization” fees for better service, warning the fees would alter the dynamics of the Web.
The new comments were extensive.
The Writers Guild of America-West’s comments included examples of what it called the entertainment industry successes possible with open Internet.
In one, Margaret Dunlap, writer and co-executive producer of the Emmy award-winning Web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” said her show, which had no corporate backing, no studio and no network partnerships, was possible because of the open Internet and Net Neutrality.
“We were posting episodes of our show exactly the same way that someone would put up a video of their cat,” she said. “But thanks to the Open Internet and Net Neutrality, our videos loaded just as quickly and played just as well as anything on Netflix, Hulu, or NBC.com. That level playing field allowed an underserved audience to find and embrace the content that spoke to them, no matter where it came from.”
In another, Ruth Livier, writer and creator of “YLSE,” wrote that after she created the concept for the show in 2010 and presented it at one event designed to nurture Latino talent, she was asked: “Who is going to watch this?” She returned to the script in 2008 after technology changed.
“The Internet suddenly put worldwide distribution at our fingertips,” Livier said. “It all seemed too good to be true. But, it was true. And it was good. And it changed everything. We suddenly had unprecedented access to create, produce and distribute our content. In this exciting new frontier of a neutral non-discriminatory Internet, anyone could finally tell their stories from their point of view without getting discouraged, derailed or having their vision diluted.”
“The bottom line is, as long as the digital space remains neutral and does not go the way of traditional media, we will never again be disregarded by anyone who essentially asks, ‘Who are you to have your story be told?'” she said in WGA-W comments.
Consumer group Public Knowledge warned that the FCC risked the future of the Web if it didn’t take strong enough action.
“We need strong open internet rules that prohibit paid prioritization and discrimination of content by ISPs. This would preserve the qualities about the internet that Americans hold dear. It is also the only way to adequately protect Americans’ online privacy and foster innovation in new privacy-protecting technologies,” said Laura Moy, a staff attorney in a statement accompanying its filing.
Similar views came from some new Web industry players.
“Tumblr strongly supports a free and open Internet and believes that it would have been exceedingly difficult for Tumblr in 2007 to develop, compete and thrive if broadband providers were permitted to discriminate against content providers through paid prioritization schemes,” said Tumblr in its filing.
The supporters also urged the FCC to seize on the strongest authority it has to regulate, and reclassify the Web as a “telecom service,” a move which would make court challenges to regulation more difficult.
Cable industry groups and their supporters offered a very different view. They warned that communications companies’ ability to invest to improve Internet speeds depends on the FCC taking a “light touch.”
“The light touch led to an avalanche of investment,” said former Rep. Ford, who urged the industry not to change course.
NCTA said trying to regulate the Web as a phone-like service would be “a risky and destabilizing reclassification strategy ” that “would destroy the Internet’s dynamism and dramatically reduce rather than increase broadband investment.”
Opponents also pointed to a Sept. 9 letter to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker from 33 technology companies, including Cisco and Panasonic.
“A sudden shift from the existing light-touch approach – which has been an unqualified success and the basis for billions of dollars in investments – would be extremely disruptive to the broadband marketplace,” it warned. “Resources that would normally be spent on building and improving infrastructure would instead be spent complying with burdensome regulatory obligations.”