How to leave a comment for the FCC about net neutrality

Do you feel strongly?
Do you feel strongly?
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn
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You have one day left to let the government know how you feel about net neutrality.

Net neutrality, the idea that internet service should be open and equally accessible without price disparities, has long been a contentious issue for the telecommunications industry. Under president Donald Trump’s new commissioner, Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to reverse a 2015 order that ensured net neutrality by classifying, for the first time, internet service providers (ISPs) as public utilities.

ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon have chafed at the 2015 rule ever since, saying that increased government regulation dampens their ability to innovate and invest in new technology for broadband networks, which leads to better service for customers. People who want ISPs regulated like utilities say the rules force ISPs to treat all parts of the internet the same, making sure, for instance, that your movies from Netflix are streamed just like your content from Verizon’s AOL or Yahoo! divisions.

The FCC opened up its proposal for a three-month public comment period on May 18. It plans to revise it based on public feedback, then will hold a vote.

Final public comments are due tomorrow, Aug. 30, by end of day, eastern time. Here’s what’s at stake:

What is Title II classification?

The FCC’s 2015 order put ISPs in the same category as phone companies, classifying them as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. That classification authorizes the government to regulate internet access, infrastructure, and connections between companies.

The 2015 order required, among other things, that ISPs couldn’t arbitrarily block websites, couldn’t reduce service speed, and couldn’t charge more for access to internet “fast lanes.” A Title II common carrier can’t “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services,” obliging them to operate “in the public interest.”

The new FCC plan essentially wants to do away with the Title II classification for ISPs. The proposal, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” calls for reclassifying ISPs as Title I information services, freeing them from utility-style regulation. That’s how they were classified before the 2015 order. DSL services like Comcast are currently classified as Title II, while AOL-style internet-based portals are classified as Title I.

The current FCC says that Title II classification for ISPs stifles online investment and innovation, as well as prevents the commission from forcefully policing privacy and data security practices. Pai, appointed by Trump in January, also argues that subjecting all ISPs to utility-style regulation is unfair to smaller providers in rural areas, who don’t have “the means or the margins” to keep up with regulation.

Republicans and ISPs who oppose the 2015 regulations say they aren’t against net neutrality fundamentally, they’re just against the Title II classification. But without regulation to guarantee oversight, policing net neutrality would be left to internet providers themselves, who have a big financial incentive to charge different prices for different types of access.

How to leave a comment for the FCC about net neutrality

The FCC’s new proposal isn’t final, so if you feel strongly about the issue, now is the time to submit your concerns. The comment period was initially set to end last week, but has been extended through Aug. 30 following an outpouring of responses.

To comment, go to this website and click “ + Express” on the left-hand side. You’ll be sent to a form to fill out. Make sure the proceeding number, 17-108 (the FCC docket number), remains in the first field.

You can review before submission. Any information you submit, including your name and address, will be publicly available online.

The FCC has said it will be the quality, rather than the quantity, of comments that will be most important. Currently, almost  22 million comments have been filed—the last net neutrality proceeding amassed what was then a record 3.7 million responses.