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Net Neutrality Battle: FCC Flooded With Calls to Bolster ‘Open Internet’ Rules

More than 677,000 comments have poured into the FCC, with just one more day left to file

The public is telling the Federal Communications Commission in no uncertain terms that it cares … it really, really cares about keeping an open internet.

More than 677,000 comments have poured into the FCC, with just a day left to file. That is already one of the largest numbers of public comments ever filed during a federal regulatory rulemaking in history.

The FCC said the largest number it had ever seen before was the 236,315 comments filed in a 2006 attempt to change media ownership. That attempt also drew significant numbers of petition signatures, which consumer groups said represented two million people.

Also read: FCC Will Create New Net Neutrality Rules

The fed’s regulations.gov site, which publishes comments from different federal agencies, says the most comments it ever received was the 143,497 that came when the IRS in November proposed putting curbs on the political activities of social welfare organizations if they wanted to stay tax exempt.

The second highest was the 127,206 for the review of the Keystone pipeline. Both those numbers include initial and reply comments.

Also read: Legislators Offer Bill Requiring FCC to Act on Net Neutrality

Most of the latest FCC comments urge Chairman Tom Wheeler to act far more strongly formally. Wheeler has previously suggested the FCC should act to ensure consumers had access to all legal web content, but asked questions about whether the FCC should ban providers from charging extra for access to faster lanes and about whether the FCC rules should cover wireless as well as wired connections.

“The government and the associated regulatory agencies of the government exist to benefit the well-being of the human citizens that they serve,” wrote Michael W. Derington, a CPA in one comment filed Monday. “Net Neutrality provides the citizens one of the few avenues available to have an equal voice and freedom. Ending Net Neutrality would be a regressive move that further divides our country and would be a clear indication that the government and the regulatory agencies of the government value the voices and freedom more of the wealthy and elite than of the common citizen.”

Commenter John Andrew Robb cautioned about the FCC creating a dual internet. “We should not allow internet providers to use ‘fast lanes’ in delivering service. Fast lanes increase the likelihood that consumers will be charged multiple times for a service.”

Also read: Congressmen Rip FCC Open Internet Plan From Both Sides

Consumer group officials and FCC experts on Monday suggested that the large volume of comments clearly demonstrates the public’s support for the FCC to impose tougher standards and its concern that paid prioritization and other moves by internet service providers could alter the web’s democracy, and allow big companies to get a high speed highway to users while smaller companies get a bumpy two lane road.

“It’s pretty impressive,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and now a senior advisor to Common Cause. “A lot of people all across America are very concerned about the way the proposed rule is written and dead set against corporate takeover of the internet.”

“I think the push back across the grass roots is enough to get attention.”

Also read: 240 Showrunners, Creators Urge FCC: Don’t Neuter Net Neutrality

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, who regularly represents consumer groups in broadcast cases, said the numbers send a clear message.

“When there are 650,000 comments, you don’t need to look closely to understand that this is something about which the general public really cares,” he told TheWrap.

“At a high level, people understand that this is important. You don’t expect members of the public to understand the details or the legal questions, but they clearly get the point that an open internet matters.”

Also read: FCC Chair to Make New Net Neutrality Rule Proposal After Google, Netflix, Amazon Protest

While most public comments call for tougher action by the FCC, not all do.

C. Chamberlain, who describes herself as a Bloomington, Ind., mother, suggested the FCC would be wrong by moving to regulate web connections as a telephone service.

“Creating restrictions and regulations on broadband will have a detrimental impact on many businesses, school districts, and families,” she warned.

The outpouring of public comments come after repeated pleas on social media for people to contact the FCC and it comes as companies, associations and consumer groups offer their own views to the agency.

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The Writers Guild of America and the Future of Music Coalition have urged the FCC to act more strongly.

On Monday, the Internet Association, whose members include Google, Amazon and Netflix, also urged the FCC to act more strongly.

“Segregation of the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes will distort the market, discourage innovation and harm internet users,” said Michael Beckerman, the group’s president-CEO, in a statement. “The FCC must act to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and apply them equally to both wireless and wireline providers.”

The biggest internet providers are all expected to file their comments Tuesday and to urge the FCC to do less, not more in regulating the web.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, in a preview of its comments published Monday, said it remains “skeptical that new rules are necessary” and urged the commission to “reject the calls of extreme voices” that the only acceptable way to regulate is to return to regulating broadband as a telephone service, rather than an information service.