A scene from a 2015 demonstration at the FCC in Washington in favor of net neutrality.

Carmen Scurato is maneuvering for a gigantic document dump.

As director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Scurato filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission on May 1 in an effort to obtain all of the consumer complaints -- some 47,000 -- submitted to the agency since net neutrality went into effect in early 2015.

The Washington-based coalition, which advocates on a variety of issues, is challenging FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's assertion that the Open Internet Order, better known as net neutrality, has hurt consumers. She claims Pai's argument is specious and that his proposal to repeal net neutrality, the 218-page "Restoring Internet Freedom," would tip the scales in favor of the country's largest telecom companies.

One of those companies, Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) , used to employ Pai as its associate general counsel. As FCC chairman, Pai now argues that net neutrality has hurt consumers by creating regulations that have prompted internet service providers such as Verizon to pull back on capital improvements to their networks and the introduction of new consumer services.

Scurato, however, isn't buying that argument.

The NHMC contends that net neutrality created a framework that gives consumers and businesses, large and small, a vehicle from which to voice complaints about how traffic moves, or doesn't move, on the internet. Disclosing reams of consumer input will offer insight into how net neutrality has functioned.

"It's possible that these complaints would show that consumers still have issues with their internet service providers, and the rules provide a mechanism in which to remedy that," Scurato said. "How can you have 47,000 complaints that consumers have submitted over two years that you're going to ignore in order to move forward with repealing these rules -- someone needs to review them." 

Via email, an FCC spokesman confirmed the commission had received the coalition's FOIA request but declined comment.

Scurato's push to make the complaints public comes as net neutrality proponents wage a Day of Action and advocates on both sides of the issue submit comments to the FCC about Pai's proposal to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order. The deadline for initial comments is Monday, while a second round of public input ends on Aug. 16.

FCC Chairman and net neutrality opponent Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman and net neutrality opponent Ajit Pai

Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal would reclassify the internet as an information service rather than as a telecommunication service as mandated by Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The change in classification would remove a "no unreasonable interference/disadvantage" conduct standard as well as rules to prevent so-called blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. 

"We aim to restore the market-based policies necessary to preserve the future of Internet Freedom and to reverse the decline in infrastructure investment, innovation and options for consumers put into motion by the FCC in 2015," the document says.

As for internet users, Pai's proposal asks: "Is there is evidence of actual harm to consumers sufficient to support maintaining the Title II telecommunications service classification for broadband internet service?" And later, "Is there any evidence, for example, that consumers' online experiences and internet access have improved due to policies adopted in the Title II order?"

Scurato looks to find out.

"I don't think the commission has done their own internal analysis of the role they've played in the enforcement of these rules," she said. "If you get rid of these rules, who is there to protect the consumer?"

In Pai's view, internet users already have recourse through the commission's own Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. On that point, the Republican commissioner wants to close the office of the Open Internet Ombudsperson, a position created by the Open Internet Order within its consumer bureau to assist individuals and organizations with questions or complaints around net neutrality rules.

Pai has argued the position is unnecessary and just another onerous layer of regulation on internet service providers. Pai's "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal is supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

While proponents of net neutrality challenge Pai's assertion that the Open Internet Order has put a brake on infrastructure investments, Scurato said the focus of debate in the coming weeks should be on individuals and businesses that use the internet. Unveiling those consumer complaints, she said, might shed light on whether net neutrality has been as bad for consumers as Pai insists it has.

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