Both sides make last-minute push on Net neutrality

Groups for and against strong rules try to score points just over a week before the FCC's vote

The clock is running down on the chance to lobby the US Federal Communications Commission before it votes on putting stronger net neutrality rules in place, and both sides of the battle are making sure their voices are heard.

Advocates of strong net neutrality rules have generated more than 1 million messages to the FCC or Congress since the beginning of 2015 via the Battleforthenet.com website. "You can't buy public opinion," Evan Greer, campaign director of digital rights group Fight for the Future, said during a press briefing Wednesday. "We very clearly have won in the sphere of public opinion."

The FCC is scheduled to vote on new rules that would reclassify broadband as a regulated utility on Feb. 26, and with agency rules mandating a week-long quiet period on lobbying before then, groups on both sides of the long-running debate were making last-minute pitches.

Included in the Battleforthenet.com numbers since Jan. 1 were more than 700,000 email messages or petitions to Congress, more than 120,000 calls to Congress, and more than 75,000 petitions to the FCC, said supporting groups, calling themselves Team Internet.

The groups supporting Battleforthenet.com include Color of Change, Demand Progress, Free Press and Mozilla.

But groups opposed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to reclassify broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated telecommunications service have their own petition drives.

American Commitment, a conservative group with ties to the activist billionaire Koch brothers, said that since December its members have written 100,000 letters to Congress opposing reclassification of broadband.

Protect Internet Freedom, a new group run by two Republican operatives, said it has collected 220,000 signatures on a petition opposing the "attempt by the Obama Administration to control the Internet as a public utility."

Meanwhile, Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the FCC, issued his own press release quoting from newspaper editorials, former government officials and others opposed to strong net neutrality regulations. He also referred to a letter this month from leaders of 43 municipal broadband projects who oppose broadband reclassification.

A change in FCC policy "will trigger consequences beyond the commission's control and risk serious harm to our ability to fund and deploy broadband without bringing any concrete benefit for consumers or edge providers that the market" is not providing now, the letter said.

Several Web startups took issue with how Pai characterized the impact of net neutrality rules, however. Earlier this month, Pai said Wheeler's plan "saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market."

But on Wednesday Engine, an advocacy group representing Web startups, sent the FCC a letter disputing that.

"We write to say unequivocally that [Pai's] release does not represent our views on net neutrality," said the letter, signed by more than 100 startups. "Quite the opposite, entrepreneurs and startups throughout the country have consistently supported Chairman Wheeler's call for strong net neutrality rules."

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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Tags free presstelecommunicationregulationColor of ChangeU.S. CongressDemand ProgressinternetFight for the FutureInternet service providersmozillaProtect Internet FreedomEvan GreerEngineU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentAjit PaiAmerican Commitmentbroadband

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