Net Neutrality Advocates Flood FCC Twitter Chat

Many Twitter users call on the FCC to reclassify broadband and subject it to utility-style rules

A flood of Internet users and net neutrality advocates called on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to enact strong net neutrality rules, with many participants in an agency-sponsored Twitter chat Tuesday advocating utility-style regulations for broadband providers.

Many participants in the Twitter chat -- featuring Gigi Sohn, senior counsel for external affairs to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler -- urged the commission to scrap Wheeler's recent net neutrality proposal that would allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management.

Instead, Wheeler should "have some dignity and spine" and force the Internet to become a "public utility," wrote a Twitter user using the name Wesley Da'Nomad, a podcaster from Washington state.

Many participants in the Twitter chat echoed those sentiments and called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service.

Twitter user Jeff Jones was one of those calling for the FCC to reregulate broadband as a common carrier.

"It's as important as electricity to modern Americans," he tweeted. "You asked for comments and you have heard from hundreds of us. Listen to US not corporations. Just this once."

Other participants focused on Wheeler's proposal, due to be officially released Thursday, saying it would allow broadband providers to charge websites and Web-based services for prioritized traffic to their users.

"If Thursday's ruling green lights varying rates for access, how will small businesses compete against giants like Amazon?" tweeted Kate Lesniak, development director at a feminist website.

The U.S. needs net neutrality rules "so our First Amendment is not sold to communications companies," added Twitter user Jacob Yow.

Sohn, former president of digital rights group and strong net neutrality advocate group Public Knowledge, said the Twitter chat was a way for the FCC to gauge the public's views on net neutrality. She defended Wheeler's proposal, saying new net neutrality rules are needed after an appeals court struck down an old version of them in January, but repeated his assurances that reclassification of broadband is still on the table.

Reclassification is a "viable option," she tweeted. "Chairman wants 2 ensure all Americans can get unfettered access 2 the content & application they want."

Sohn also talked about the time frame for adopting new rules. Thursday's vote will open Wheeler's proposal to public comment for 60 days, followed by a reply round of comments for another 60 days, she said. The FCC hopes to have new net neutrality rules in place by the end of the year.

While many of the Twitter chat participants called for strong net neutrality rules or reclassification, there were some dissenters.

"Broadband is dynamic & fast changing," tweeted Laura Berrocal, chairwoman of broadband advocacy group InnovationGenerationOnline.org. "Will applying old school telco regs really help industry grow or do the opposite?"

It would take the FCC years to reclassify broadband and separate out the unnecessary rules allowed under old telecom regulations, tweeted Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, free market tech policy think tank.

"During years of litigation over reclassification & forbearance, investment would suffer & FCC could accomplish little else," he added.

Szoka also suggested the deck was stacked in the Twitter chat, as many participants retweeted the same messages. "It's never been so hard to distinguish true auto-spam from torrents of spammy activists who add nothing of substance," he tweeted.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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