FCC Extends Net Neutrality Comment Period Until End Of August

Image courtesy of Consumerist

While Ajit Pai, the new pro-industry chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has pledged to “take a weed-whacker” to the FCC’s net neutrality rules that restrict internet service providers’ ability to interfere with your web use, he’ll have to wait a bit longer to do that regulatory gardening. The FCC has grudgingly decided to extend the current comment period a little longer.

Who asked for an extension?

The period we’re in now is technically called the “reply” comment period. The first round, which ended July 17, was when everyone had their say; the second round is when everyone looks at what everyone else said in the first round, and responds to that.

But there’s an issue with the net neutrality proceeding — or rather, 13 million issues. Because that’s how many comments the proceeding had by early August, give or take. The previous record high number of comments to any FCC proceeding was the 2014-2015 net neutrality fight, and that generated just about four million filings.

Reading 13 million comments, and sorting out the real from the fraudulent and the robotic, is a massive chore.

So an array of groups in favor of maintaining the current Open Internet rules — including the ACLU, the EFF, Public Knowledge, and our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union, among others — filed a petition asking the FCC to extend the reply comment period by eight weeks.

That would have taken it to Oct. 11, and, ideally, would have given ample time for everyone filing reply comments to at least get the gist of everything incorporated into their new filings.

Two weeks is the FCC’s compromise.

When does anyone ever agree on anything relating to the government? In response to the petitions asking for an extension, telecom industry trade and lobbying groups fired off their own responses that no such extension was necessary.

The CTIA, NCTA, and USTelecom opposed, saying that the Commission should either deny the extension or limit it to ten days. They acknowledged that this is the fight that just won’t die, saying that everyone has had “multiple opportunities to weigh in on the core issues in play here for over fifteen years.” And that’s true: In many ways, this proceeding is beating a dead horse, because the core issues have been argued out for nearly this entire century to date. It’s only the vectors of attack and the legal language that change.

The Commission chose basically the compromise route that the industry trade groups proposed, extending the deadline by ten business days to Wednesday, Aug. 30.

Does the rest of the timeline change?

This extension doesn’t really change very much, overall.

Our projected timeline for the demise of net neutrality remains about the same.

Nearly 20 million comments have come in so far (19,945,713 as of this writing), but the reply comment periods will be over and done with by early fall, and it seems likely that Commission chair Ajit Pai will want to maintain momentum and bring a finalized rule to the Commission as soon as he can, perhaps in the October or November open meetings.

Whenever he does, one thing is all but certain: The lawsuits will follow almost immediately after.