Blog Post

Comment period for internet “fast lanes” closes today, FCC sees record submissions

The great debate over the “open internet” or “net neutrality” or “fast lanes” — or however you describe the FCC’s proposal to change the rules of the internet — enters a new phase this week, and Monday is the public’s final opportunity to weigh in on a process that has already attracted more comments than the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” incident.

The process pits the telecom industry, which wants to be able to offer priority treatment to preferred websites, against a coalition of companies and public interest advocates who want the FCC to maintain the practice under which internet providers must treat all online the traffic the same way. Some are styling the fight as “Team Cable” versus “Team Internet.”

Monday’s deadline represents the close of a “reply period” to a first round of comments, and means the [company]FCC[/company] will, in theory, have all the input it needs to set out a final decision.

The “input” as of last Wednesday comes in the form of 1,477,301 public comments, a number that will likely be significantly higher by the end of today (you can submit to the FCC’s docket here). Update: on Monday afternoon, the agency reportedly stated the total number is now above 3 million.

The outpouring has strained the capacity of the FCC’s IT infrastructure to accept all those comments, leading the agency last week to add a new tool for uploading comments in bulk.

What do all those comments say? So far, sentiment analysis by NPR and the Sunlight Foundation suggests the vast bulk of the comments are in favor of keeping the internet rules as they are. But it’s far from clear that Chairman Tom Wheeler has the political juice to use the only legal process (called “Title II”) that would allow the agency to do that.

We will be keeping an eye on the final submissions that trickle in, and continue to report on what it all means — including the chances for Title II and Google’s evolving role in the whole thing.

4 Responses to “Comment period for internet “fast lanes” closes today, FCC sees record submissions”

  1. It’s hard to see how Title II classification would help keep the Internet “the way it is.” Not sure about all the legal details, but requiring network operators to offer the same terms to all customers would be a big change. For one, that would put an end to the settlement free peering by which networks often interconnect today without charge. Presumably, an ISP that delivers data to widely distributed rural customers would be allowed to charge more than one in the city. Or, maybe there would be some kind of regulated cross subsidy. Or, possibly you could have uniform billing by the “bit mile.” Presumably, there would be volume discounts or else heavy shippers like Netflix would see huge increases in their cost of operation. This is not necessarily bad, but would be a huge change. The costs of the accounting and billing systems might exceed the cost of delivering the service.

    • Nathan Betzen

      I don’t remember the exact location, but I’m fairly certain I’ve read that the FCC is under no obligation to apply every rule of Title II classification to providers. It’s why it is possible to have a discussion about “net neutrality” without also having a discussion about line sharing, which otherwise is definitely also a requirement of Title II. So there’s pretty much no reason to worry about any of what you just wrote, unless the FCC determines it’s somehow useful to do so.

      • I have seen those “forbearance” arguments as well, and it makes a lot of sense, that the FCC would not be obligated to apply every minutia of the regulations that were designed for telephony. Yet, I also don’t buy the idea that this would give them carte blanche to make whatever rules they please, according to whoever lobbies the most effectively.

        It seems like they would be obligated to follow some consistent principles, e.g., that the Internet is a transport service that carries bits from one place to another, and everyone should pay the same published rates for the same service. Aside from the practical complexity of implementation, I think that’s a fine idea. But it is a divergence from the way the Internet works today, and would probably not deliver the outcomes people expect. E.g., right now, an ISP can choose to subsidize the transport of inbound content because they know it makes the recipients happy. I don’t see how that could be allowed under common carrier principles. I think we would see base subscriber fees go down, but the cost of operation for content providers would go up. I think that would be a good thing, but it certainly would not be keeping the Internet the way it is.