FCC flooded with over 3M comments about net neutrality rules

The FCC said that it received 3 million comments about the proposed net neutrality rules as it approached yesterday's deadline for comments.

Kim Hart, an FCC spokeswoman, said that the regulator continued to receive comments as the deadline for submissions to the official record approached at the end of Monday.  

Interestingly, the net neutrality submissions surpassed the FCC's earlier record of 1.4 million comments that were submitted about Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2005 Super Bowl halftime show.

Under the rules that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed in April, service providers such as Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) would be prohibited from blocking user access to websites or applications but could charge content companies, such as Netflix, to ensure quick and reliable delivery of their traffic to users, as long as such deals are deemed "commercially reasonable."

AT&T (NYSE: T) recently suggested a plan to the FCC that it said would allow consumers to ask their broadband providers to give priority treatment for bandwidth-hungry applications over e-mail.

"Such an approach would preserve the ability of Internet service providers to engage in individualized negotiations with [content companies] for a host of services, while prohibiting the precise practice that has raised 'fast lane' concerns," AT&T wrote in its filing.

However, consumer advocate groups and content providers like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) and Mozilla, contend that creating these so-called "fast lanes" would give service providers the ability discriminate against online content and applications. 

A coalition called Battle for the Net, which is against creating fast lanes for ISPs, held a protest last week called Internet Slowdown Day. During Internet Slowdown Day, users that went to sites like Level 3 Communications, Netflix or Wordpress saw a continuous site-loading icon on each site, which they said was a way to "remind everyone what an Internet without net neutrality would look like."

One of the key issues of debate the FCC is facing in the net neutrality battle is whether to reclassify ISPs as utilities under the Title II designation. Title II would reclassify broadband service as a utility.

Following a Washington, D.C., court's rejection of the FCC's net neutrality rules earlier this year, a group of public interest groups, lawmakers and businesses have been arguing that Title II reclassification of broadband Internet is the only way the regulator can ensure nondiscriminatory net neutrality rules.

David L. Cohen, EVP for Comcast, wrote in a blog post that Title II reclassification would actually do more damage and hamper new broadband investments.

"Reclassifying services that for over a decade have been lightly regulated…is also factually unsupported and likely legally invalid," Cohen wrote. "The bottom line is that there is essentially no upside gained by reclassification—there is only substantial risk of harm."

While Wheeler said he does not want to reclassify broadband under Title II, he contends that the consumer broadband market is not competitive. He has also called to increase the definition of broadband from 4 to 10 Mbps.

Today, the commission will hold a series of Open Internet roundtable discussions, which will include panelists on either side, addressing their views on net neutrality.  

For more:
- Reuters has this article
- WSJ has this article (sub. req.)
- Washington Post has this article

Related articles:
Netflix, Mozilla, others protest FCC net neutrality proposal with Internet Slowdown Day
AT&T, Verizon challenge the FCC's proposed 10 Mbps broadband definition
FCC's Wheeler: Competition will drive new broadband speeds, availability
FCC's Wheeler challenges Tennessee's anti-municipal broadband laws

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