Comment period for internet “fast lanes” closes today, FCC sees record submissions

The great debate over the “open internet” or “net neutrality” or “fast lanes” — or however you describe the FCC’s proposal to change the rules of the internet — enters a new phase this week, and Monday is the public’s final opportunity to weigh in on a process that has already attracted more comments than the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” incident.

The process pits the telecom industry, which wants to be able to offer priority treatment to preferred websites, against a coalition of companies and public interest advocates who want the FCC to maintain the practice under which internet providers must treat all online the traffic the same way. Some are styling the fight as “Team Cable” versus “Team Internet.”

Monday’s deadline represents the close of a “reply period” to a first round of comments, and means the [company]FCC[/company] will, in theory, have all the input it needs to set out a final decision.

The “input” as of last Wednesday comes in the form of 1,477,301 public comments, a number that will likely be significantly higher by the end of today (you can submit to the FCC’s docket here). Update: on Monday afternoon, the agency reportedly stated the total number is now above 3 million.

The outpouring has strained the capacity of the FCC’s IT infrastructure to accept all those comments, leading the agency last week to add a new tool for uploading comments in bulk.

What do all those comments say? So far, sentiment analysis by NPR and the Sunlight Foundation suggests the vast bulk of the comments are in favor of keeping the internet rules as they are. But it’s far from clear that Chairman Tom Wheeler has the political juice to use the only legal process (called “Title II”) that would allow the agency to do that.

We will be keeping an eye on the final submissions that trickle in, and continue to report on what it all means — including the chances for Title II and Google’s evolving role in the whole thing.