Under fire over net neutrality plans, FCC seeks early feedback

The agency set up an email box for reactions to a plan that hasn't been formally released

The FCC's upcoming net neutrality plan has already touched off such a blaze of reaction that the agency has set up an email box where the public can send comments about it.

The coming proposal has generated so much commentary, before even being released, that on Friday the U.S. Federal Communications Commission started accepting comments at openinternet@fcc.gov.

Normally, anyone who wanted to weigh in on an FCC proposal would have to wait for the agency to issue a "notice of proposed rulemaking" and start soliciting comments to its Electronic Comment Filing System. That will happen for the net neutrality issue on May 15, assuming the full Commission votes at its meeting that day to move the proposal forward.

But the email address means it will start accepting comments now. It's not the first time the agency has sought comments early, but it suggests it's keen to be seen as open to feedback on this issue.

Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated the proposal among his fellow commissioners on Thursday. The actual text of the plan is not yet public, but the agency has said it would let Internet service providers give preferential treatment to some content providers on "commercially reasonable" terms. Watchdog groups say that could force consumers to pay more and squeeze out startups that can't afford anything but the slow lane.

The FCC's former rules on the issue were struck down by a federal appeals court in January. Now Wheeler is pushing to get the new regulations on the books by the end of this year. Wheeler has circulated the proposals among his fellow commissioners, who are set to address them at a regular agency meeting on May 15.

In a blog post on Thursday, Wheeler denied reports that his plans would abandon the FCC's commitment to an open Internet. But numerous advocacy groups don't buy it. Campaigns are already calling for consumers to protest the plans to the White House and lawmakers.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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