Net neutrality supporters disrupt FCC meeting

About a dozens protesters call on the agency to reclassify broadband as a regulated utility

net neutrality sign clouds internet

About a dozen protesters calling on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to pass net neutrality rules disrupted the commission's meeting for a short time Thursday.

Protesters shouting and carrying signs interrupted the beginning of the FCC's meeting as commissioners were hearing from staff members, teachers and administrators about proposed changes to the agency's E-Rate program, which subsidizes broadband service for schools and libraries.

The protesters called on the FCC to vote to reclassify broadband as a regulated utility under Title II of the Communications Act. "We need to have Title II on the agenda," one protester shouted. "We need to guarantee net neutrality!"

The protesters called on the FCC to move forward with strong net neutrality rules. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hasn't give a time frame for commission action on proposed rules. The commission needs time to analyze the 4 million public comments it has received since early this year and to work through some issues raised by President Obama's call a month ago for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a public utility.

Wheeler's original proposal earlier this year would have allowed broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management and, in some cases, charge Web content producers for paid prioritization. Wheeler's first proposal didn't include a reclassification of broadband, but he has since said he's open to a range of proposals to protect net neutrality.

The demonstrators at Thursday's meeting held up a large sign calling for net neutrality rules "now" behind commissioners as Daisy Dyer Duerr, principal at St. Paul Schools in Arkansas, began to speak in favor of changes to the E-Rate program. "Oh, my," she said.

"We're asking for Title II consideration," one of the sign holders said. "Keep the net neutral. This is what the president wants, this is what the people want."

One protester apologized for interrupting the FCC meeting. "This is a very important issue for the American people," he said.

Wheeler briefly halted the meeting and addressed students attending the meeting for the E-Rate vote. "You've just seen the First Amendment at work," he said. "This is what this country is all about."

Asked later for a timeline on a net neutrality decision, Wheeler declined to provide a specific date. The FCC wants to get a net neutrality rule done "fast, done right and done permanently," he said. "We're on a course to do that."

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 grant_gross@idg.com.

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