| WASHINGTON, July 18
WASHINGTON, July 18 U.S. companies, consumer
advocates and citizens submitted more than 1 million comments to
the Federal Communications Commission, drawing contentious
divisions on the issue of net neutrality as the first deadline
to comment approached Friday.
The FCC will continue collecting comments, made in response
to these first submissions, until Sept. 10 as it weighs how best
to regulate the way Internet service providers (ISPs) manage web
traffic crossing their networks. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
proposed new rules in April after a federal court struck down
the FCC's previous version of such rules in January.
The FCC's draft rules propose banning ISPs from blocking
users' access to websites or applications but allowing some
"commercially reasonable" deals between content providers and
ISPs to prioritize delivery of some web traffic.
Though Wheeler has insisted the FCC would carefully guard
against abuse of the rules to hurt competition or consumers, the
proposal drew ire from public interest groups and large web
companies that say it would result in faster download speeds for
some content at the expense of other content, which would
inevitably be relegated to "slow lanes."
As the push against paid-prioritization spread across the
web, thousands wrote to the FCC and the proposal has now
attracted one of the biggest responses in the FCC's history,
nearing the record 1.4 million comments the regulators received
after the 2004 Super Bowl broadcast that exposed viewers to a
glimpse of singer Janet Jackson's breast.
"Dear FCC," read numerous comments filed using a template
created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation group.
"Net neutrality, the principle that (ISPs) treat all data
that travels over their networks equally, is important to me
because without it ISPs could have too much power to determine
my Internet experience by providing better access to some
services but not others."
Consumer advocates and some web companies, including online
video services Netflix Inc and Vimeo, want to reclassify ISPs as
telecommunications services and regulate them more like public
utilities - an idea rejected by the ISPs and by Republicans both
in Congress and at the FCC.
Experts disagree on whether or how reclassification would
effectively prevent pay-for-priority deals. Wheeler has not
proposed reclassification as the solution, but has not taken it
off the table as a potential route.
The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, AT&T
Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Comcast Corp wrote to the
FCC in opposition of reclassification, saying the "radical" move
would impose arcane rules on the quickly changing marketplace
and may raise costs for supporting already expensive network
infrastructure. They say they have no plans to create any "slow
AT&T, though, said the FCC could ban paid prioritization
without reclassifying ISPs. It is unclear how the approach would
stand up in court. Verizon and Comcast supported the
"commercially reasonable" standard.
Cable trade group came out in support of setting the same
net neutrality rules for wireless and fixed broadband, something
long urged by consumer advocates and recently also backed by
large web companies.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Andrea Ricci)