Most comments warned FCC against ‘fast lanes’

About two-thirds of people commenting on potential new rules for the Internet warned regulators not to allow “fast lanes” online, according to an analysis of hundreds of thousands of the filings.

The Sunlight Foundation reported on Tuesday that less than 1 percent of all comments received by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were clearly opposed to net neutrality — the concept that Internet service providers like Comcast should be barred from blocking or slowing users' access to some websites. 

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The results of the transparency organization's three-week analysis of agency comments show the pressure the FCC is under to write strong rules governing Internet access.

In many cases, that pressure is a result of efforts by consumer interest and left-leaning advocacy groups including Free Press and Credo Action. The groups helped organize public campaigns in opposition to a plan from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler which seemed to allow Internet service providers to cut "commercially reasonable" deals with websites like Netflix in order to boost some subscribers’ Web speeds.

Critics say that could lead to "fast lanes" for websites with deep pockets and slower service for everyone else. 

The massive public response has been larger than any the FCC has ever seen while trying to write new rules.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, about two-thirds of respondents asked the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet service as a "telecommunications service" instead of an "information service." That would allow the commission to impose tough new rules on Internet service companies, but it's been protested by many industry giants and would likely lead to a legal challenge.

The Sunlight Foundation analyzed about 800,000 of the 1.1 million comments received on the issue and released them for public review. The rest seem to have been submitted through the mail, rather than electronically, so they were not readily available for analysis. 

In all, about 60 percent of the submissions were written via form letter, which is actually less than government agencies typically receive on a high profile issue.

That “could be an indicator of a genuinely higher level of personal investment and interest in this issue,” Sunlight Foundation developers Andrew Pendleton and Bob Lannon wrote in a blog post, or else a signal of some new method for organizers to get people to write comments.

Fewer than 1 percent of responses were from people the organization classified as an “expert.”

Some of the comments also seemed totally unrelated to the FCC’s attempt to write new rules. For instance, the complete texts of both Les Misérables and War and Peace were submitted as comments.

Comments responding to the first wave of input on the FCC’s proposed rules are due by Sept. 15.