WASHINGTON (CNS) — The initial comment period for Americans to tell the Federal Communications Commission what they thought of its proposed “Restoring Internet Freedom” initiative closed July 21.
At last count, about 10.6 million people and organizations weighed in — 2 million of them alone July 12, the date of a coordinated effort by groups to preserve the current internet rules.
The FCC is now in a “reply” period that runs through Aug. 16. It’s doubtful the four-week reply period will generate similar numbers, but advocates on one side or the other can take the opportunity to rebut comments they regard as either self-serving or skirting the truth.
Not that anybody is making 10.6 million tally marks, but the safe bet is that the vast majority of those who have sent comments to the FCC want to keep the present rules.
Among those is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Without the current strong open internet regulations, including prohibitions on paid prioritization, the public has no effective recourse against internet service providers’ interference with accessibility to content,” said USCCB assistant general counsel Katherine Grincewich in comments delivered July 21 to the FCC.
To keep things straight, “open internet” is synonymous with net neutrality, and “paid prioritization” is another way of saying “fast lane” for the internet. Foes of paid prioritization say it follows that if someone pays for a fast lane, then all who don’t pay are relegated to a slow lane — or worse.
For two days during the week before the end of the comment period, news reports surfaced that Verizon Wireless — Verizon is one of the United States’ largest internet service providers — was intentionally slowing down video streaming services on its customers’ data plans. Open-internet advocates call that throttling. Verizon’s definition: optimization, adding it was just a network test that should not have disrupted their customers’ internet experience.
In its FCC comments, AT&T, another huge ISP, called “baseless” the notion that the internet would be divided into slow and fast lanes , but said a complete ban on paid prioritization would render it harder for the company to “support autonomous cars, remote surgery, and a growing array of other unusually latency-sensitive applications.”
Comcast, whose Xfinity service makes it another large ISP, also cited self-driving cars, which rely on a high-quality connection to operate, as one reason to do away with rules banning what some disparagingly call tolls on the internet.
Larry Downes, a contributor to Forbes magazine, cited four reasons why the current policy should be scuttled: It skews the “competitive dynamics of the internet ecosystem”; it has “killed incentives for ISPs to compete or innovate”; it “dangerously and needlessly discouraged emerging technologies”; and it “replaced ‘permissionless’ innovation with nonbinding ‘advisory opinions.” He also maintained that net neutrality is not at risk should the FCC move away from regulating the internet as if it were a public utility — although its initial policy effort to define the internet as a telecommunications service was thrown out in federal court.
One suggestion is to take the internet out of the FCC’s purview and put it instead under that of the Federal Trade Commission, which could levy fines for what it sees as corporate mischief.
Others have suggested that the ultimate solution is for Congress to set federal internet policy. However, anyone relying on Congress may be looking at a pig in a poke, given how messily it’s handled its efforts at overhauling the Affordable Care Act — which has been a Republican priority ever since it was enacted seven years ago.
And who knows how either Congress, or the FCC with its current Republican-appointed majority, would deal with internet policy in the months — and likely years to come. “Without protections to prohibit internet providers from tampering with content delivery on the internet, the fundamental attributes of the internet, in which users have unfettered access to content and capacity to provide content to others, are jeopardized,” Grincewich said for the USCCB.
This is why, she argued, that the FCC needs to use “the strongest legal authority available” to “retain open internet regulations.”