Record 9 million comments flood FCC on net neutrality

The U.S. government has received more than 9 million public comments on rolling back net neutrality regulations, a record response to this hot-button issue that both sides argue plays an essential role in who gets Internet access.

More than 9 million comments — the largest influx ever — have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission about the agency’s proposal to reverse the net neutrality rules it passed in 2015. The first public comment period ended Monday, and now a one-month rebuttal period is underway. Already, about another million additional comments have been submitted.

Those totals were boosted by last week’s online ‘Day of Action’ conducted by tech companies and liberal privacy rights organizations that support the net neutrality regulations, as well as opposing comments from those in favor of overturning the rules. Big tech companies including Amazon, Google and Microsoft argue rolling back the rules will give Internet providers too much flexibility to favor some content and to charge more for others.

That fear ruled the day two years ago, when the FCC passed rules preventing Internet service providers (ISPs) from throttling or blocking content online, and prohibited ISPs from prioritizing content, including their own, over other content, possibly for payment.

President Obama urged then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to use certain rules that harken back to The Communications Act of 1934 to ensure the agency’s regulatory authority. New rules were needed because the agency’s previous 2010 Open Internet order was tossed out of court in 2014 after a legal challenge by Verizon.

Even before he was a presidential candidate, President Trump criticized Obama’s move and, three months ago, current FCC Chairman and Trump appointee Ajit Pai said he would begin a new rule-making process to consider the overturning of the 2015 rules, calling them overly burdensome for ISPs. The commission approved the proposal 2-1 at their May 18 meeting.

Pai and his supporters — including the big telecom and cable companies — argued that the rules unfairly targeted Internet providers, prompting them to hold back on investments in broadband in underserved areas, like rural America.