Comments on FCC’s Open Internet Order soar after internet protest

The number of comments received by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regarding its Open Internet policies topped 3 million before comments were closed on September 15th.

According to an article authored by Dr. David Bray, the FCC Chief Information Officer, the many messages were effective. Bray wrote, “The record number of comments we received on this proceeding underscores the importance of the Open Internet.” A graph on the same page indicates that through the three methods of reaching out to the FCC, including an email address and an electronic comment system, over 800,000 notes were left in the five days leading up to the closure of comments.

This spike in interest comes on the heels of an expansive internet protest on Sept. 10. Popular websites such as Netflix, Reddit and Tumblr placed superficial loading icons on their web pages and implored visitors to contact their local representatives and the FCC. The actual speed experienced by the users was not changed, however. As reported by the protest organizers, over 40,000 websites participated in the demonstration.

A statement on the Netflix website reads “The Internet is improving lives everywhere – democratizing access to ideas, services and goods. To ensure the Internet remains humanity’s most important platform for progress, net neutrality must bet defended and strengthened.” A core tenet of net neutrality is that all traffic which does not violate the law is processed equally by the internet service providers.

The FCC’s proposed policy changes have garnered much controversy in the months since the original announcement in April. The most controversial topic is the concept of an internet fast lane, which means that internet service providers will be able to charge companies a premium to provide their services to consumers faster. If this policy were implemented, businesses which choose not to pay the premium would suffer slower speeds, while those that did use the fast lane would be able to provide a better user experience as their content would load faster.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has addressed concerns that the implementation of these rules would hinder new businesses who cannot afford to pay for the higher tier, proclaiming “I know in my bones how hard it is to start a company with innovative ideas. Now, as chairman of the FCC, I do not intend to allow innovation to be strangled by the most important network of our time, the internet.” Wheeler has been intimately involved with the process of creating new technology companies, both as an entrepreneur and a venture capitalist.

Wheeler himself is also a source of concern for net neutrality supporters. From 1992 to 2004, Wheeler served as the CEO of the Cellular Telecom and Internet Association, a major lobbying group. Popular comedian and satirist John Oliver spoke of his concerns about Wheeler and his relationship with Internet service providers. Oliver said, “These companies have Washington in their pockets to a conveniently almost unbelievable degree,” before adding, “The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it.”

Wheeler does not believe that the FCC is misguided with its proposal, however. Speaking at the 2014 Cable Show earlier this year, Wheeler declared “Reports that we’re gutting the open internet are incorrect.” He later added, “Our goal is rules that will encourage broadband providers to continually upgrade service for all.”