Groups rush to file last-minute net neutrality comments

Greg Nash

Trade associations, advocacy groups and corporations all rushed to make their voices heard on the last day to file comments on net neutrality to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Groups representing major technology and telecommunications companies filed comments to the agency on Republican Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to get rid of net neutrality rules. Pai’s plan, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” would return regulatory jurisdiction of the broadband companies like AT&T and Comcast to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) — an agency that critics say lacks the necessary power to regulate them.

Supporters of net neutrality provisions fear that without FCC regulation, companies like AT&T and others could slow down, block, or force companies and consumers to pay extra for certain types of web content.  

{mosads}In its comment AT&T defended Pai’s plan, calling the FCC’s current net neutrality rules a blatant example of “overregulation.” The company asserted its opponents were resorting to hyperbolic “doomsday scenarios.”

“Market dynamics require all [internet service providers] to honor their customers’ engrained [sic] expectations of full access to the Internet,” AT&T wrote.

Verizon and other companies made similar arguments in the comments they filed on Wednesday as well.

Facebook and Google notably did not file comments in support of net neutrality with the FCC. The companies were more vocal in the fight in 2014, when they met with the FCC to discuss the matter, but have been quieter in 2017.

Both companies do, however, maintain that they’re supporters of net neutrality and both participated in the net neutrality “Day of Action.” A trade group representing both of them, as well as other tech firms like Amazon, Snapchat and Twitter, did file a comment in support of the net neutrality rules on Wednesday.

Observers have noted that the rules don’t matter much to bigger tech firms that have the power to cut deals with broadband companies if needed. Republicans in Congress, who strongly oppose net neutrality, have put pressure on tech firms to drop out of the fight.

Microsoft and Amazon, however, did file comments in support of net neutrality in July. In its filing, Microsoft said that protections against broadband companies are still necessary.

“Now is not the time for the Commission to abandon fifteen years of progress toward protecting the economic future of our country,” the company wrote. “Now is not the time for the Commission to abandon its open internet rules.”

Despite backtracking on its previously strong net neutrality rhetoric, Netflix also filed comment with the FCC in July in support of the rules.

Overall, 21 million comments were filed regarding net neutrality, breaking the previous FCC comment record of roughly 4 million. Groups on both sides have noted that despite increased interest, many of the comments are likely fake.

Research commissioned by Broadband for America, an anti-net neutrality organization, found that 7.75 million comments came from fake emails. The study also noted that a majority of unique comments — ones not generated by a campaign — were filed in support of maintaining net neutrality provisions by a factor of 73 to 1.

Despite the last-day push on both sides, the outcome might already be decided. Pai has been a harsh critic of former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler’s rules. During a speech in April announcing his proposal to scrap net neutrality, he told a crowd of reporters and industry officials that rolling back net neutrality “is a fight that we intend to wage and it is a fight that we are going to win.”

With a Republican majority in the FCC, Pai is poised to get the victory he wants.

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