Ahead of Net Neutrality Vote, FCC Gains More Public Trust

Republican efforts to wrest control of the net neutrality decision-making process from the Federal Communications Commission aren’t resonating with the American public.

Four times as many registered voters said the FCC, not Congress, should be responsible for determining internet regulations, according to a new Morning Consult poll. Thirty-six percent said the FCC is best equipped to handle the issue, compared with 9 percent who said the decision should be left to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

That represents a widening gap when compared with the same question asked in mid-January. Since then, support for the FCC increased by 8 percentage points, while the number of “don’t know” responses decreased by the same amount.

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“There’s been a fairly consistent and very impressive effort to get the public engaged,” Erik Stallman, director of the Open Internet Project and general counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said today in an interview. “The FCC did a very good job of making it possible for the public to engage directly through the comment period. The public has a general interest in what happens on the internet.”

One round of the FCC’s public comment period on net neutrality drew a record number of responses, with almost 4 million.

Among Morning Consult poll respondents, even Republican voters showed little support for having the GOP-led Congress take the lead on net neutrality, with only 11 percent saying lawmakers should establish the rules for web traffic.

The FCC is scheduled to vote tomorrow on rules that will determine the regulatory structure of the internet. The commission is widely expected to vote in favor of classifying internet service providers as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act, a move supported by President Barack Obama that would subject ISPs to tighter federal regulations and ensure all web traffic is treated equally.

ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon are opposed to that approach, as are many congressional Republicans. GOP lawmakers last month floated a legislative proposal they say would accomplish goals similar to net neutrality while avoiding the lengthy and costly court battles that are likely to ensue after tomorrow’s FCC vote. Democratic opponents of the measure say it will weaken the FCC and allow for so-called internet fast lanes that could increase costs for content providers and hurt consumers.

Fifty-three percent of poll respondents said they disagree with fast-lane principles, while 35 percent said ISPs should be allowed to load certain websites faster than others in return for a fee from those sites.

No legislative action has been taken on the GOP proposal put forth by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan.

More recently, some Republican committee chairmen launched investigations into whether the White House influenced FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s decision to endorse the Title II approach.

Morning Consult