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'Net Neutrality' Comments Crash FCC Computers

The FCC's 17-year-old public-comment system couldn't handle the overwhelming electronic responses.

The huge volume of emails and public comments over the proposed rule creating Internet fast lanes and slow lanes crashed part of the Federal Communications Commission's aging computer system earlier this month, an agency official confirmed Thursday.

Spokeswoman Kim Hart said the FCC's 17-year-old public-comment system couldn't handle the overwhelming electronic responses.

The 36-hour crash came days after HBO comedian John Oliver -- formerly of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart -- performed a 13-minute on-air rant on the FCC's open-Internet proposal as bad for consumers and told his audience to shoot comments to the FCC.

Oliver compared appointing former cable industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler to head the FCC to hiring a dingo, a wild Australian dog, to babysit your baby.

In a 1980 incident depicted in the movie A Cry in the Dark, a dingo killed an Australian baby girl on a camping trip with her family.

Wheeler told reporters after the Oliver rant that "I would like to state for the record that I'm not a dingo," according to U.S. News & World Report.

Oliver also poked fun at Comcast Corp. chief executive Brian Roberts and the proposed merger with Time Warner Cable Inc.

Philadelphia-based Comcast is seeking government approval to acquire Time Warner Cable for $45.2 billion. Comcast and Time Warner Cable are the nation's two largest cable companies and would control about 40 percent of the residential Internet market, experts say.

The deal needs the approval of the FCC and the Justice Department.

The 500,000 comments posted to the FCC's website or emailed regarding the open-Internet proposal seem to be the most comments for an FCC docket since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl, FCC officials say.

Jackson's nipple-baring during the halftime show elicited 1.3 million comments. Hart noted that many of those comments were written rather than sent to the federal agency electronically.

The FCC will continue to take public comments about the new open-Internet rules through mid-September. The proposal would let network owners charge some companies for an Internet "fast lane," shunting other traffic to slower routes.

Wheeler has testified before Congress on the need to upgrade the FCC's information systems. Agency staff, meanwhile, has been trying to patch the computer system this month for future comment surges, Hart said.

The FCC has a broad mandate to regulate broadcast-television stations and phone companies and cable companies that serve tens of millions of subscribers with Internet service and email.

©2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer