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FCC extends net neutrality deadline as both sides set out their cases

Analysis It's the ISPs versus the public interest in a battle for the internet
Wed Jul 16 2014, 16:57
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THE UNITED STATES Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has extended the deadline for commenting on its proposals for the future of net neutrality.

The public comment period previously had been scheduled to end yesterday, but the FCC released a statement saying that it had seen an "overwhelming surge of traffic" to its website and decided to extend the comment period until the end of the week to ensure that everyone gets a chance to comment. In addition, comments can be emailed to openinternet@fcc.gov.

Once the new deadline passes, the comments, which now stand at over 670,000, will be made public and a 60-day internal consultation period will begin, at the end of which the FCC will decide what changes it will make to the way the internet is run in the US.

Meanwhile, both sides in the debate have been weighing in, with most people arguing against giving more power to the internet service providers (ISPs). The ISPs, which are telecom and cable companies, understandably argue that it will be just fine to let them do whatever they want.

It's not just individuals having their say. Company heads and IT industry consortiums have been making their arguments in the press, in addition to filing them with the FCC.

The website battleforthenet.com, which is a group of websites including Delicious, Etsy, the Cheezeburger Network and Tumblr, has accused the cable industry of "calling in their favours" with the FCC to get the result they want, and urges citizens to fight back with people power.

Meanwhile, on the Kickstarter blog, founder Yancey Strickler outlined the company's filing with the FCC, explaining, "Kickstarter, like Wikipedia, Twitter and every other service on the web, was built on the foundation of an open internet. We would not exist without it. The more than 60,000 creative ideas that have been brought to life using Kickstarter - from new technologies to new restaurants to new symphonies - also depend on a free and open internet."

Michael Beckerman, CEO of internet trade body the Internet Association, said, "Segregation of the internet into fast lanes and slow lanes will distort the market, discourage innovation and harm internet users. The FCC must act to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules and apply them equally to both wireless and wireline providers."

Of course, like the FCC, the internet service providers believe that the proposals represent a continuation of the belief in an open internet. Comcast said on its blog, "Now that the DC circuit has struck down the 2010 open internet order, we continue to believe that the FCC should put in place legally enforceable rules to protect the openness of the internet and we are strongly supportive of the FCC chairman's efforts to do so - and to do so quickly.

"We believe that the DC circuit's decision has, for the first time, laid out a clear path and clear authority (under section 706 of the Telecommunications Act) for the FCC to adopt robust and legally enforceable open internet rules."

Verizon, the company whose successful appeal triggered the debate on the future of the internet in the US, said, "A balanced framework will ensure that broadband providers act reasonably and would protect against backsliding or bad acts that threaten consumers or competition, while preserving flexibility for all providers to experiment with new approaches that could offer new choices and benefit consumers and small players alike."

In that particular blog post Verizon does not make it clear what it defines as a balanced framework, but it involves "fast lanes".

Although all sides seem to be pushing for the same result, the reality remains that it's a "them" and "us" debate, and comes down to whether FCC chairman Tom Wheeler decides to shill for his old buddies in the cable industry or side with "us", the rest of the world that has twice brought the FCC website to its knees under a tsunami of comments urging him to reconsider and serve the public interest.

Readers in the UK may feel that this argument is nothing to do with them, but the internet is a global infrastructure and such a decision made unilaterally, not just by a single country, but by unelected officials from that country, will have ramifications for the whole internet. The FCC has granted an extra 48 hours to give people their voice. Wherever you are in the world, you still have time to exercise your right to tell the FCC what you think. µ

 

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