F CC moves into second phase on net neutrality decision
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) closed to public comments on the subject of net neutrality. Initially expected to end on July 15th, the deadline was extended to Friday, July 18th, in the wake of technical issues on the FCC’s website. By the time the period ended, more than 1 million comments had been left for the FCC. According to NPR, this marks net neutrality as one of the most publicly commented issues of all time, topped only by media deregulation and the Janet Jackson Superbowl wardrobe malfunction.
Is this the end of the public’s involvement with the net neutrality debate?
While the initial public comment period has closed, the matter is far from resolved. Until mid-September, the FCC has opened the million plus comments for public response. From this point forward, users can respond to comments already made on the FCC’s website.
As FCC chairmen Tom Wheeler said, following the initial deadline:
“There is no question the Internet must remain open as a platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression. Today’s (July 18) deadline is a checkpoint, not the finish line for public comment. We want to continue to hear from you.”
Will the millions of comments on net neutrality matter?
That’s the tricky part. Though the internet valiantly rallied together in support of net neutrality (due largely in part to the support of everyone from large tech companies such as Google, popular TV personalities such as John Oliver, politicians like Al Franken, and a slew of articles urging action from the average person), NPR reports that the vast majority of comments will be useless.
Gigi Sohn, head of public engagement for the FCC, admitted: “A lot of these comments are one paragraph, two paragraphs, they don’t have much substance beyond, ‘we want strong net neutrality.'”
In NPR’s article, Richard Pierce – a law professor at George Washington University – pointed out that most of the in-depth comments which will influence the FCC won’t be coming from the average person:
“Those comments that have some potential to influence are the very lengthy, very well-tailored comments that include a lot of discussion of legal issues, a lot of discussion of policy issues, lots of data, lots of analysis. Those are submitted exclusively by firms that have a large amount of money at stake in the rule-making and the lawyers and trade associations that are represented by those firms.”
Does that mean that the public rallying in support of net neutrality means nothing?
Not necessarily. Thanks to the millions of comments, and sustained pressure on the FCC to “do the right thing,” net neutrality has gained a large amount of visibility in the public eye. As a result, the FCC has sworn up and down that it’s not going to let cable companies kill net neutrality. It’s not just the big bad organizations fighting over net neutrality, either.
According to Variety, the Writers Guild of America West submitted its own filing in support of net neutrality, calling for the FCC to reclassify the internet as a Title II telecommunications service – a popular stance, seen by many as the best way to keep cable companies in check. Other large organizations have come out in support of net neutrality as well, including tech giants like Google and Facebook.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t change the fact that net neutrality is still an extremely complex, contentious issue, with no easy answers, and it’s all tangled up in big-money agendas. It also means that although you can continue trying to raise visibility, and respond to the initial comments on the FCC’s website until September 10th, the matter of net neutrality is largely out of the public’s hands.
The battle for net neutrality isn’t over yet, but the average person – despite their best efforts – will likely have little impact on the fate of an open internet.
Still, that doesn’t mean we should lose sight of what’s happening, when the well-being of something we all depend upon is at stake. Knowing is half the battle, as they say (the Saturday Morning cartoons of our youth, at least).