More than 2.4 million people have signed letters calling on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to stop its proposed "takeover" of the Internet in an effort by conservative activist group American Commitment to reframe the debate about the agency's proposed net neutrality rules.
American Commitment's letters and petition page do not refer directly to net neutrality, however. Instead, the group's materials call on the FCC to refrain from regulating the Internet and from taking over the Internet.
The group said that it delivered the 2.4 million letters, urging Congress to stop the FCC's net neutrality proceeding, to lawmakers this week.
"The American people have spoken clearly in urging Congress to stop any effort by the FCC to impose regulations on the Internet," American Commitment President Phil Kerpen said. "A Washington takeover of the Internet would be disastrous for free speech, commerce, and the future of the Internet as a sphere of innovation."
The group's online petition at StopInternetRegulation.org doesn't mention the words "net neutrality" or "open Internet," the FCC's term for the proposed rules.
Instead, the group urges people to sign and send the FCC the message "that the American people won't stand for a federal takeover of the Internet."
The petition reads, in full: "The Internet is not broken, and does not need to be fixed. Left-wing extremists have been crying wolf for the past decade about the harm to the Internet if the federal government didn't regulate it. Not only were they wrong, but the Internet has exploded with innovation. Do not regulate the Internet. The best way to keep it open and free is what has kept it open and free all along -- no government intervention."
Net neutrality rules proposed by the FCC would prohibit broadband providers from selectively slowing or blocking most Internet traffic. Net neutrality advocates have argued that the rules would preserve free speech and an open Internet, instead of endangering them, exactly opposite of what American Commitment suggests.
There's nothing in the FCC's proposed rules that would amount to a federal takeover of Internet content. Net neutrality rules, even if the FCC reclassified broadband as a regulated public utility, also wouldn't amount to the U.S. government taking control of broadband networks, although they could allow the FCC to regulate network management practices.
While the petition doesn't mention net neutrality by name, it's an honest summation of the issue, Kerpen said. Many net neutrality advocates like Free Press have called on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility and, if that happens, it would amount to a federal takeover of the Internet.
"We've got major players openly calling for turning the Internet into a public utility with pervasive government regulation with every aspect of network management and business arrangements," he said. "The threat level has escalated as such that it's no longer necessary to speak to the problems with the less draconian proposals."
Groups encouraging people to contact the FCC in support of net neutrality failed to disclose how much regulation a reclassification of broadband would entail, Kerpen said. "Our language is much more accurate and honest than the language that came from the liberal petitions calling for regulation, but avoiding using that word," he added. "Our language is much more straightforward."
The FCC has received more than 3.7 million public comments related to its proposed net neutrality rules, with the vast majority of those comments calling on the agency to enact rules.
American Commitment hopes that the letters will discourage the FCC from moving forward with net neutrality rules, or encourage Congress to intervene, Kerpen said.
With the letters, "we've at least denied the commission the pretext of claiming that ... new regulation is, by and large, what the American people want," he added. "They'll will be deprived of representing their actions as being the will of the American people."
American Commitment's letters won praise from Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, and critic of the FCC's proposed rules. "It is important for these Americans from across the country to be heard loud and clear," he said in a statement.
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 protected]