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How Much Popular Support Does Net Neutrality Really Have?

Few people know what net neutrality is, one study suggests, as White House petitions languish.


There has been no shortage of outrage on the Internets about the FCC’s recent net neutrality proposal, which would allow broadband providers to offer fast-lane service to content companies. But do most people really care?

A recent study by the Pew Research Center suggested that most Americans have no idea what net neutrality is or what all the fuss is about, since network and cable news shows have mostly ignored the debate.

According to Pew researchers, of the 2,820 news programs that aired on eight network and cable news channels from January thru May 12, just 25 programs mentioned the term net neutrality. Six of those programs were on Al Jazeera America which is, shall we say, thinly viewed.

Net neutrality is the idea that broadband providers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against legal Internet traffic and block websites or apps. Debate around the issue has been confusing for many, since it involves both complicated network management issues and administrative law practices.

Major news organizations haven’t polled Americans on net neutrality so it’s hard to say how many people understand what it is or how much popular support new rules might have.

Net neutrality advocates have been waging successful online campaigns to flood the FCC and Congress with thousands of emails and phone calls to complain about the fast-lane net neutrality proposal.

There doesn’t seem to be much outrage directed at the White House, which has carefully tried to stay on the sidelines of the net neutrality debate, despite President Obama’s statements in the past that he supports it.

Five petitions have been filed with the White House so far that address the issue of net neutrality in some way. None has received enough signatures to warrant a White House response.

(White House officials only promise to respond to petitions that receive 100,000 signatures within 30 days. Even then, they may not respond very promptly.)

One petition, which asks the White House to “maintain true net neutrality to protect the freedom of information in the U.S.” had almost 76,000 signatures Thursday afternoon with two days to go.

A separate petition (with 4,226 signatures) asked the Obama administration to “prevent the FCC from ruining the Internet” while another asked them to “reclassify Internet providers as common carriers.” (16,867 signatures).

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will no doubt be happy to learn that two petitions asking the White House to remove him are nowhere close to getting enough signatures (8,091 and 6,860, respectively).

Earlier this year, before Wheeler announced his fast-lane proposal, the administration officials did respond to a net neutrality petition, which asked the White House to “Restore Net Neutrality by Directing the FCC to Classify Internet Providers as Common Carriers.”

“The petition asked that the President direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as ‘common carriers’ which, if upheld, would give the FCC a distinct set of regulatory tools to promote net neutrality,” wrote Gene Sperling, then-director at the White House’s National Economic Council. ”The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet — a principle that this White House vigorously supports.”

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