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Net Neutrality Activists Gear Up for FCC Comment Period

BY Miranda Neubauer | Thursday, May 15 2014

The debate over net neutrality reached a peak Thursday, as the FCC voted in favor of a proposal that would allow Internet service providers to charge websites and content providers for higher quality and faster delivery, and activists expressed their opposition online and offline, as GigaOm explains in more detail. But especially online, the focus of the opponents of the proposals is already shifting rapidly now to the 120 day comment period and the potential to significantly reshape the final proposals at the end of the year.

As the FCC directed the public to its somewhat intimidating seeming comments page, Gizmodo published directions on how to submit to the site with the headline "How to Yell at the FCC About How Much You Hate Its Net Neutrality Rules."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation vowed to "fight to protect Net Neutrality" and said it was offering its supporters an easy way to submit comments to the FCC through a web platform at "Personalize it. Tell a story," the EFF recommends.

MoveOn, which had also helped organize protests in Washington D.C. and places like New York City, sent out an e-mail with the subject line "Kiss the internet goodbye?" in which it vowed to continue to ramp up its campaign against the proposed rules. MoveOn writes that it aims to raise $150,000 over the next 60 days, the first round of the comment period to "drive phone calls to the White House," "Launch a new round of ads to raise awareness," "deliver thousands of public comments to the FCC in support of the real solution," and "continue to amplify the more than 10,000 personal stories from MoveOn members who would be hurt if the FCC adopts this plan."

The days ahead could also see more creative protest strategies along the lines of the #StopTheSlowLane campaign initiated by Fight for the Future, which venture capitalist Fred Wilson implemented on his blog AVC to bring up an interstitial with the message "Thank you for using Comcast/Time Warner Cable, Your web site is important to us, Please wait while we prioritize traffic from our preferred partners. Sorry! This web site is not included in your plan. Please upgrade to our Advantage Gold 9000++™ package." He also included a link to a Fight for the Future petition.

As activists made their point at the demonstrations, with some protestors briefly managing to interrupt the FCC's meeting, and online, especially Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn urged the public to take advantage of the process to express its opinion, as activists and journalists chronicled on Twitter.

Some groups from the opposite side were also using the web to participate in the conversation. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association was running a promoted tweet with phrasing taking a page from Upworthy.

The post linked to a blog entry titled "No Potholes on the Internet" and pushed back against claims that the FCC's proposals would threaten the Internet, stating that "professional advocates have sought to create public panic in the hopes that the FCC will throw out 15 years of growth and success by reclassifying Internet networks as common carriers and regulating the Internet as a public utility," adding that the cable broadband providers "are unequivocally committed to building and maintaining an open Internet experience."

The post suggests that the activists' comparison is flawed given the state of public infrastructure today and the state of private investment in broadband:

Just look [at] our nation’s crumbling public utilities. One in three major U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks a year. And in 2011, our electric grid blacked out 307 times, up from 76 in 2007.

Today’s Internet doesn’t suffer these kinds of chronic problems because broadband isn’t regulated like a public utility. It grows and thrives through private investment and a light regulatory touch [...] What we need to do as a nation is to encourage innovation and vibrant marketplaces. Classifying the most technologically advanced communications network in human history as a common carrier is a terrible mistake. Rather than completely dismantling broadband deployment through common carrier regulation, we should be freely discussing solutions and working towards a rational end that both encourages growth and supports an open Internet experience for all.