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Americans Mad as Hell Over Proposed Net Neutrality Rules

By Richard Adhikari E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Sep 4, 2014 11:35 AM PT

More than 99 percent of the 800,000 or so comments on Net neutrality the FCC released last month were in favor of an open Internet, according to the Sunlight Foundation's analysis of the comments.

At least 60 percent of the comments, or more than 484,000, were form letters written by organized campaigns, although that is a lower percentage than is common for high-volume regulatory issues.

At least 200 comments came from law firms, on their own behalf or for their clients.

"We cleaned up and put the data out there for public consumption, and set up ways to sort by commonly used terms and phrases, but we've not gone through each individual comment," Sunlight Foundation spokesperson Jenn Topper told the E-Commerce Times.

Other Findings

About two-thirds of comments objected to the idea of paid priority for Internet traffic or the division of Internet traffic into separate speed tiers.

About the same number of comments asked the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under the Telecommunications Act of 1934.

A smaller number of commenters advocated a similar action but on a different legal basis, citing Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was the first major overhaul of the 1934 Act.

More than half the comments in form letters from various groups maintained Internet access is an essential freedom. Almost the same number of form letters, from essentially the same groups, cited the economic impact of the end of Net neutrality, or its impact on small businesses and innovation. About 40 percent of comments discussed the importance of consumer choice or the impact of regulations on consumer fees, often using words such as "extort" or "extract."

About one-third of comments discussed the importance of competition among ISPs, mentioning "monopoly," "competition," and naming Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner. (Comcast is seeking to purchase Time Warner Cable, a move that has sparked fierce opposition.)

About 5 percent of comments, including a Tea Party blog and letters from Stop Net Neutrality, argued against regulation. Some advocated freedom for consumers and others pushed freedom for ISPs.

About 2,500 commenters called for the resignation of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler or other commissioners or staff. Roughly 1,500 comments, directed typically at Wheeler, quoted John Oliver's monologue on Net neutrality, using the word "f*ckery."

Wheeler is the former head of the cable industry's lobbying arm.

The Business of America Is Business

Does this mean public support for Net neutrality is weaker than it generally is for major issues?

Possibly opponents of Net neutrality, such as Verizon and Comcast, consider the battle won. The FCC in April proposed rules that, in effect, would allow service providers to impose tiered charges. Are the ISPs convinced they'll get what they want?

Netflix, which is pushing hard for Net neutrality, thinks so: It is now paying Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner for guaranteed service quality.

Opponents of Net neutrality "have this well-founded confidence that public opinion may not matter in complex policy debates in Washington, D.C., because what matters more is the power of their checkbooks," remarked Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press.

However, the FCC's Wheeler in May reportedly updated his proposal to moderate his position following an outcry from Net neutrality supporters.

A couple of days later, the commission opened a public comment period inviting the public to weigh in on how its rulemaking could best protect Internet openness.

As for the latest information on how the public responded, the FCC has "no comment specifically regarding Sunlight's report," commission spokesperson Neil Grace told the E-Commerce Times.

Pump Up the Volume

The Free Press and Fight For the Future have called for public action on Sept. 10 in support of Net neutrality.

"If you can create public protest of a certain volume and scale, you can make it so prominent that even the bureaucrats at the FCC can't argue with it," the Free Press's Karr told the E-Commerce Times.

"Our aim has always been to show overwhelming public support for Net neutrality," he said, "to the extent that no elected official or federal bureaucrat in Washington can rule against you without shaming the democratic process."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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