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Deluge of net neutrality comments hits FCC website after Oliver rallies audience

The agency's comments page goes down after comic commentator John Oliver urges people to take action

After a comedic video about net neutrality became a YouTube hit, more than 22,000 comments about proposed net neutrality rules flooded the website of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and the traffic locked up the agency's Web-based comments form for parts of Monday and Tuesday.

Many of the comments appeared to be driven by comic news commentator John Oliver's 13-minute piece, first airing late Sunday, on his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight. Daily Show veteran Oliver's commentary, slamming broadband providers and the FCC, was also posted on YouTube, where it had more than 1.6 million views as of Wednesday morning.

Many advocates of strong net neutrality protections have criticized FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for rules that would allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management.

The FCC released a set of net neutrality proposals, including Wheeler's plan, for public comment on May 15. The FCC also asked if it should regulate broadband providers like public utilities, a move broadband providers have vowed to fight if it happens.

Oliver, in his somewhat not-safe-for-work commentary, urged Internet trolls to turn their ire toward the net neutrality issue and submit comments to the FCC. "For once in your life, we need you to channel that anger and badly spelled vile that you normally reserve for unforgivable attacks on actresses you seem to think have put on weight ... or photos of your ex-girlfriend getting on with her life," he said.

He also questioned Wheeler's past jobs as head of two telecom-related trade groups, the mobile-focused CTIA from 1992 to 2004 and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association from 1979 to 1984. "The guy who used to run the cable industry's lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it," he said. "With the fact that they are practically overseeing their own oversight, it is hardly surprising that cable companies are basically monopolies now."

Wheeler has repeatedly said he wants to reinstate net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court threw out an old version of them in January. Outside of his trade group experience, Wheeler has worked as a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and he's said strong net neutrality rules are important for people in those fields.

"I will not allow the national asset of an Open Internet to be compromised," he said during a commission meeting in May. "I understand this issue in my bones. I can show you the scars from when my companies were denied open access in the pre-Internet days."

Broadband providers say they have spent billions of dollars to build or upgrade their networks, and some argue they should be able to explore business models that include charging bandwidth-heavy Web content producers like Netflix for traffic prioritization. FCC efforts to pass net neutrality rules, or reclassify broadband as a utility, amount to the agency telling broadband providers what they can do with their private property and could dramatically slow investment in broadband deployment, some providers argue.

The FCC received 22,200 comments on net neutrality on Monday and Tuesday, with the total also including weekend comments that are posted to the agency's site on Monday, said spokeswoman Kim Hart. Even with the FCC's comments form unavailable for some time this week, the agency continues to take net neutrality comments at the email address, openinternet@fcc.gov.

The agency has received more than 64,000 comments on net neutrality, with more than 45,000 in the last month.

Those numbers dwarf the number of comments the FCC has received in other open proceedings. The FCC has received fewer than 1,700 comments on Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, and 200 comments on an enhanced 911 emergency dialing proposal.

The FCC's release of its proposed net neutrality rules on May 15 set off a 120-day comment period on the issue, with 60 days for initial comments and 60 days for replies to the first round of comments.

Among the recent comments to the FCC on net neutrality:

-- "Please don't sell our country to the highest bidder by dividing our internet speed. Our internet MUST maintain its neutrality for all voices. Killing net neutrality would further a system of oligarchy in our country by creating monopolies on a public resource. It would be a tragedy if we cheated ourselves out of one of America's greatest gifts to the world."

-- "Ending Net Neutrality would be a travesty. Please don't allow the telecommunication companies to fleece the American people."

-- "If you start forcing companies to pay more for better access, then smaller companies are not going to be able to afford to compete with the big guys. The reason the internet is so vibrant and alive is that it has a level playing field."

-- Internet providers should be regulated like other utilities and should not be allowed to offer faster download speeds to preferred customers. That is, download speeds should be the same for everyone. Your proposal to have a two-tiered system should be abandoned."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags John OlivertelecommunicationTom WheelerregulationU.S. Federal Communications CommissionKim HartinternetgovernmentbroadbandInternet service providers

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