Editorial: Quality Over Quantity

The volume of Title II comments could affect timing of decision

The FCC has received more than 8 million comments on its proposal to no longer apply Title II common-carrier regulations to internet service providers. That total includes over 3 million in the past 30 days alone, which, as longtime watchers of the FCC and its dockets, we are sure is a record.

But while much has been made of the volume, that should have no bearing on how the FCC decides the issue. Like the judiciary, it is supposed to make a decision based the strength of facts and arguments, not their number.

The volume of comments could, however, affect the timing of the decision, though that number could arguably support both speeding up the decision, given its obvious importance to a lot of people, or taking more time to try and digest everything that is being said.

But a lot of people shouting the wrong thing, from either side, does not make a right, any more than a lot of people with pitchforks and torches should get to decide who gets a trial and who gets ridden out of town on a rail.

Meanwhile, Congress could, and should, do the FCC a favor by crafting compromise legislation to clarify the agency’s authority over basic broadband rules of the road. That suggestion was echoed in comment after comment.

The odds on that are long indeed, given the current political climate and the controversial nature of network neutrality rules. But there appeared to be a bit of hope on that front, as some Republicans were suggesting there could be a crack in the Title II-or-the-highway front among Democrats and net neutrality activists, buoyed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s comment that he was “open to working with members of Congress and anyone else on laws to protect net neutrality.”

Unless Congress provides some kind of certainty about the FCC’s authority, the game of regulatory and legal Ping-Pong will almost certainly continue. The losers will be the American people, who already face a future where broadband is the virtual nervous system for the nation.

Not knowing how that system fits within the government’s purview is a reason for all of us to be nervous.