On September 15, EDUCAUSE and eleven other higher education associations submitted reply comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the agency’s current Open Internet Order and network neutrality proposal. The reply comments further clarified some of the concepts introduced in the coalition’s original comments submitted to the FCC on July 18.
The reply comments emphasized the vital role higher education institutions and libraries played in the development of the internet as well as the dual role these institutions hold as content providers and end users, continuously sharing and accessing information, data, and knowledge across the Internet. The comments also suggested the FCC implement a no-blocking rule based on the will of the consumer, further explored the possibility of an “Internet reasonable” standard to govern relationships between ISPs and edge providers, introduced a method of prohibiting paid prioritization that would maintain flexibility for ISPs, and stressed the Open Internet Order should only regulate public broadband networks (i.e., broadband networks that serve the general public).
Several high ranking public figures and legislators have entered the net neutrality debate, including President Obama. The president has stated he is firmly against the imposition of “fast lanes” and called on the FCC to protect net neutrality. The president did not, however, direct the FCC to act under a specific legal authority, allowing him to largely sidestep the most controversial aspect of the debate. In contrast several representatives and senators have been more vocal, presenting specific alternatives to the FCC’s proposal. Representative Waxman, for example, has discussed regulating ISPs under both Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, while Senator Markey is calling on the FCC to fully impose Title II regulations and reclassify ISPs as common carriers. The position that EDUCAUSE has joined emphasizes the FCC’s ability to establish strong network neutrality rules under Section 706.
Since the close of the reply comment period, the FCC has held a number of roundtables to discuss different elements of the net neutrality proposal with stakeholders. At the October 7 roundtable, EDUCAUSE and the eleven higher education and library associations were represented by John Windhausen of Telepoly Consulting. Windhausen was also the lead author of both the coalition’s initial and reply comments. At the meeting, Windhausen explained the coalition’s stances on the legal authority under which the agency should act, concerns with the “commercially reasonable” standard proposed, the practicality of using the “Internet reasonable” standard introduced in the coalition’s original comments, and the concerns the coalition has with the hybrid approaches being introduced by outside parties.
The FCC is currently reviewing the 3.7 million comments submitted between the original comment period, which ended on July 18, and the reply comment period, which ended on September 15. A vast majority of the comments have opposed the FCC’s proposal, arguing it does not go far enough in preserving net neutrality. Even with the record-breaking number of submissions, the FCC plans to publish final rules by the end of the year.