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FCC website receives a million comments, tensions increase

The comments section of the FCC website has been open for well over a month now and was initially spurred into overdrive when comedian John Oliver's segment on net neutrality spurred thousands to voice their opinions on emerging net neutrality legislation. The area of the website, which became floated with the thoughts and anger of the American people, was slotted to close earlier this week, but was reopened when response in the final hours of the effort crash the website for the second time in several weeks. With over a million comment now logged, according to a report from Tech Crunch, what can be taken away from this massive response from the United States populace?

The value of citizen engagement
With such a large section of the country offering their opinions on the FCC's pending "fast lane" legislation that would favor the bottom lines of major Internet Service Providers and stall service to smaller websites, it's no longer a news item – it's a social phenomenon. Political engagement in the United States has yo-yoed over the years, a statistic that can be verified merely by looking at the voting statistics for President Obama's first win in 2008, then for his second term in 2012.

According to CNN Political Ticker, voting numbers for 2012 were lower than both 2008 and 2004, while 2008, during President Obama's revolutionary "Yes We Can" campaign, youth voting was higher than it had been in years. The social cause and candidate seemed to motivate the digital generation, and when this motivation diminished, so did the levels of engagement.

TechCrunch contributor Alex Wilhelm expanded on the massive response from Americans as the final hours of the extended deadline encroach.

"It will be interesting to see what the final tally will come to," he speculated. "It doesn't appear that the comments for net neutrality will best, in their abundance, the 1.4 million that the FCC racked up following the Janet Jackson-Super Bowl imbroglio."

The fact it, we are a culture that values buzz, instant gratification and reasons to post on social media. The net neutrality debate has conveniently offered all three. Does this phenomenon mean a happe ending for the lawmakers that be?

Taking FCC comments with a grain of salt
With this "hype" mentality prevalent as legislation continues to lurch forward, Forbes contributor Larry Downes claimed in a recent piece that "the biggest net neutrality lie of all" is the misinformation that has resulted from the influx of media coverage available on the very service that is in jeopardy of being split into fast and slow lanes. He explained the risk of this viral spread of data, and why an Internet that's heavily regulated by the government may not be the miracle that some users think.

"Some are explicit in a sincere but naïve belief that a government owned-and-operated Internet would be better and cheaper than the private one," Downes explained. "Others recognize the costs and risks of injecting government deep into the Internet's core architecture, but imagine (with more wishful thinking than evidence) that powerful governments would be more friendly to consumers than powerful corporations."

Ironically, this issue is one born of Internet culture itself, and it's difficult to locate precise, accurate information or find where some of these rumors stemmed. For now, it's in a citizen's best interest to read over the exact language of the legislation available online instead of potentially biased views perpetuated by reporters and performers.

While the government and the FCC in particular are making the final call on where American net neutrality is headed, it's impossible to say what the result of the debacle will be. However, if citizen response is any indication, plenty of people will be waiting to see what happens next.

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