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Public Deluges FCC With 677K Comments on Proposed 'Fast Lane' Rule


Halfway through the conversation, the public already has a lot to say about net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission has reportedly received, as of Monday, more than 677,000 comments from individuals, companies and trade groups on the proposed Open Internet Order. The rule, as proposed, would allow Internet "fast lanes.''

The initial round of public comment has ended but the public has until Sept. 10 to file replies to comments.

Related: The Latest FCC Net Neutrality Rules Should Be Opposed

The rule was proposed following a January ruling by a federal court in a suit brought by Verizon challenging FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order setting guidelines enforcing what is popularly called "net neutrality.''

The debate since then has boiled down to a fundamental choice that has many delving into the morass of telecommunications law. The FCC has, since 2002, regulated Internet service providers as "information services'' under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The federal court ruling that tossed out most, but not all, of the 2010 Open Internet Order reasoned the FCC lacked authority under Section 706 to enforce key parts of the order. That has prompted many people and companies to call for reclassifying ISPs as "telecommunications services'' under Title II of the act, which would allow FCC regulation of ISPs as a "common carrier'' like the landline telephone company of years past.

The debate has two primary sides and little middle ground. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents broadband providers among many others, announced in a blog post that it will file comments with the FCC opposing Title II reclassification.

"The Commission must reject the calls of extreme voices that wrongly suggest that the only acceptable course for the Commission to take is to turn back the clock on progress by reclassifying broadband as a Title II common carrier service,'' stated the NCTA.

Related: AT&T's Latest Move Should Have Net Neutrality Advocates Freaking Out

The clamor for reclassification has risen to a din. Companies including Y Combinator, Etsy and Mozilla have filed comments contending growth to their current stature would have been unlikely if they'd begun under a regulatory structure like the FAA has proposed.

"Only reclassifying broadband as Title II will protect an open and neutral Internet,'' wrote Alexis Ohanian, founder of reddit and a partner in Y Combinator. He noted in his letter to the FCC that Kickstarter, Codecademy, Dwolla, General Assembly, CodeCombat, Contextly, OpenCurriculum and technology investor Union Square Ventures have all called for reclassification under Title II.

Notably silent in the sliver of middle ground between the two sides is The Internet Association representing "America's leading Internet companies'' including Google, Facebook and Amazon. Its filing with the FCC lamented "broadband Internet access providers have the incentive to discriminate and block Internet traffic,'' but the 25-page filing does not contain the term "Title II.''

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said when the proposed order was released on May 15 that the commission would enact a new rule by the end of the year.

Related: Loss of Net Neutrality Risks a Less Friendly Internet for Entrepreneurs

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