More than two-thirds of U.S. respondents in a new survey say that decades-old telephone regulations should not apply to the Internet, which suggests that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission should stay away from reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility, an advocacy group said.
Many groups calling for the FCC to pass strong net neutrality rules have called on the agency to reclassify broadband as a regulated common carrier, similar to long-standing regulations governing the telephone system, but California-based tech advocacy CALinnovates pointed to a survey the group commissioned that it said suggests many U.S. residents are wary of heavy-handed regulations for the Internet.
Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed with a statement saying laws written decades ago for the telephone system aren't adequate for dealing with the Internet, said CALinnovates, whose members include broadband provider AT&T, VC firm SV Angel and online education service JobScout.
Only about one in four survey respondents said they believe that government policies can keep up with the pace of IT innovation, the group said. Still, when asked if there should be rules about broadband providers prioritizing traffic, 63 percent of respondents said all Internet traffic should be treated the same, or, if there is a preference, it shouldn't happen because companies pay to get priority.
The survey didn't specifically ask about reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, because many respondents wouldn't have understood Title II, CALinnovates representatives said.
CALinnovates supports net neutrality rules, but not reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility, said Mike Montgomery, the group's executive director. CALinnovates wants compromise net neutrality rules that don't include Title II regulation, but protect Internet traffic, he said.
"We need a reset button, so we can take a fresh look at net neutrality in a way that uses 21st-century laws and 21st-century wisdom," Montgomery said. "We believe and support a free and open Internet without paid prioritization, or fast lanes, but we're fearful that the options being considered could hinder, rather than help, achieve this net neutrality that we all want."
Title II regulation would slow Internet innovation and hurt investment in Internet and broadband companies, CALinnovates suggested. "I believe that if you're worried about the speed of the Internet, the worse possible thing you could do is turn it into a utility under utility-style regulation," Montgomery said.
CALinnovates released its survey results a day after a group of net neutrality advocates staged a symbolic Internet slow-down that was supposed to show what would happen if the FCC passes weak net neutrality rules. Many of the participating groups have called on the FCC to reclassify broadband under Title II as a way to keep broadband providers from creating faster lanes for companies that pay for priority traffic.
People responding to the Internet slow-down protest made more than 300,000 calls and sent more than 2.1 million email messages to Congress and filed more than 720,000 comments at the FCC, organizers said. More than 10,000 websites displayed icons with a spinning wheel simulating slow load times.
"The numbers tell the story: People everywhere are using the Internet to save the Internet from phone and cable companies," Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, one of the protest's organizers, said by email. "The FCC and Congress can no longer dismiss the overwhelming consensus of public support for real net neutrality protections."
The deadline for a second round of comments in the FCC's current net neutrality proceeding is Monday. The FCC has received close to 1.5 million comments on net neutrality rules.
The CALinnovates survey, by Zogby Analytics, questioned more than 1,000 U.S. residents earlier this month.
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 email@example.com.