A new Consumer Reports survey shows that a majority of Americans favor net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking lawful online content. The results come as pro-consumer groups hold a "Day of Advocacy" on Wednesday, urging legislators in Washington, D.C., to support such rules.

But the next step for net neutrality lies with the Federal Communications Commission, which received nearly 22 million comments this summer on a proposed plan to undo existing net neutrality rules.

The principle of network neutrality assumes all internet traffic should be delivered to consumers the same way, regardless of whether an internet service provider has a financial stake in favoring content from one provider over another. 

The FCC's current rules were enacted by the FCC under former chairman Tom Wheeler. They bar internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast and Verizon from taking actions such as blocking web content from their competitors or entering "paid prioritization" deals in which some online companies would pay to get their content delivered faster.

Earlier this year, a revamped FCC, now headed by Chairman Ajit Pai, proposed undoing the classification of internet providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act. That would strip the FCC of the authority to keep ISPs from blocking, throttling, or entering paid prioritization deals for content.

Any major regulatory change by the FCC requires the agency to give the public a chance to weigh in with its opinions. The agency accepted public comments during a three-month period that ended in August.

The FCC is required to take the feedback into account while deciding whether to push ahead with the plan, though officials have said that the quantity of the comments on each side of the issue wouldn't drive the decision.

The five-member commission is expected to vote on the plan, which has the backing of many ISPs, by the end of the year. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It's not clear what would come next if the FCC did push forward with the rules change, but advocates say that Congress could address the issue by passing a net neutrality law.

What Consumers Said

In July, Consumer Reports conducted a nationally representative phone survey of more than 1,000 Americans to assess attitudes toward the FCC's regulations on net neutrality. One main finding was that the majority of Americans—57 percent—support the current net neutrality regulations that ban ISPs from blocking or discriminating against lawful content on the internet. Sixteen percent said they opposed these regulations, while about a quarter didn't express an opinion on the topic.

An even larger majority—67 percent—said that ISPs shouldn't be allowed to choose which websites, apps, or streaming services their customers can access. Almost as many—63 percent—don't think an ISP should be allowed to modify or edit content consumers try to access on the internet.

When it comes to paid prioritization deals, in which ISPs can provide faster delivery of content to companies that pay a fee for it, roughly half the respondents—48 percent—said they didn't believe such practices should be permitted, while 26 percent said they should be permitted, and 26 percent expressed no opinion. 

Internet access is obviously important to the survey respondents. Seventy-nine percent say they rely on the internet at least five days a week. And 68 percent say they rely on it every single day. 

"This survey underscores the need for net neutrality rules, as well as the importance of the internet in our daily lives," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, says. "Clearly, consumers are not clamoring for the repeal of the rules, yet that’s the direction the FCC is headed. If the FCC rolls back these rules, people would likely end up paying more for the online access and speeds they have today, and we would no longer have the level playing field for businesses large and small to compete online."

Day of Advocacy

Public Knowledge, Consumers Union—the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports—and several other consumer groups say they are bringing more than 40 consumers to meet with their Congressional delegations on Wednesday to discuss the issue. 

During the meetings, the consumers plan to express the importance of net neutrality to their lives, schools, and businesses, says Kate Forscey, government affairs associate policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

"We believe [these] voices defending our small businesses, individual content, and innovation—depict just a portion of net neutrality’s immense public support," Forscey says. "Their work puts a much-needed human face" to the issue.

Joining Public Knowledge and Consumers Union in the Day of Advocacy activities are the Center for Media Justice, Common Cause, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Writers Guild of America-West.