The FCC today gave people who want to comment on its plan to relax enforcement of net neutrality rules an additional two weeks to make their views known — rejecting pleas by open-Internet activists for an extra eight weeks.
Regulators now plan to close the comment period on August 30. The additional time will “allow parties to provide the Commission with more thorough comments, ensuring that the Commission has a complete record on which to develop its decisions,” says today’s order from Daniel Kahn, chief of the Competition Policy Division of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau.
(The ruling was made the same day that Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel were sworn in as commissioners, restoring the agency to its full complement of five.)
Kahn made his decision in response to an extension plea last week from open-Internet advocates including Public Knowledge, the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Writers Guild of America West.
They said the original 30-day window — set to close on August 16 — didn’t give advocates sufficient time to deal with “the enormous volume, scope, complexity, and importance of the issues” that have been raised.
The agency allowed 62 days for comments when it considered net neutrality rules in 2014-15, and 84 days in 2009-2010.
The FCC should consider two months a “bare minimum,” the groups said.
Analysts believe that the FCC will vote along partisan lines — three Republicans, two Democrats — to side with cable and phone companies that want to relax the rules. Still, a big public response could turn net neutrality into a potent campaign issue in 2018.
Cable and phone trade groups yesterday opposed extension. They said the issues already were well known, adding the “vast majority of comments filed merely state (often in one or two sentences) the commenter’s ultimate policy preferences.”
The FCC already has received nearly 20 million responses to the plan, officially introduced in mid-May. It would undo the 2015 decision to enforce open-Internet rules under Title II of the Communications Act. That empowers the agency to regulate the medium as a common carrier similar to phones.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to go back to Title I, which gives the agency less clout to regulate internet service providers. The FCC calls his proposal the “Restoring Internet Freedom Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.”
The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. overturned the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules saying that regulators lacked the authority to act under Title I.
Net neutrality rules bar Internet service providers from playing favorites among content providers — for example, by providing some with faster transmissions. Advocates say that’s needed to promote competition. Opponents say that cable and phone investors will be chilled by the possibility of government enforcement.
Tech companies and others have mobilized the so-called netroots to show that the current rules have broad, and intense, support. Public opinion played a big role in the 2015 switch to Title II. HBO’s John Oliver was especially prominent in rallying people to lobby the FCC.
But the comment process this year has been marked by weirdness.
Immediately after Oliver’s call to action in May, the FCC said that it couldn’t take comments due to what it said were multiple denial-of-service attacks.
In June, House Committee on Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe to investigate whether bots flooded the FCC with thousands of fake comments favoring Pai’s proposal.
Then, early this week, the National Legal and Policy Center — a group that opposes compulsory payment of union dues as well as public financing to provide legal services for the poor — said that it found more than 5.8 million “fake pro-net neutrality comments” between July 17 and August 4.