Who would have imagined people would have to protest for a free and open internet?
Yet that is exactly what is planned to occur outside Federal Communication Commission (FCC) headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, the day the FCC is slated to decide the fate of net neutrality.
Net neutrality regulations prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down selected websites. Democrats and consumer advocates argue weakening those rules puts in place the potential for ISPs to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the vast stores of information on the web from which customers benefit.
On Monday, tech leaders and internet developers, like Tim Berners-Lee, an MIT professor who helped invent the original internet in 1989, sent a letter to congressional members overseeing the FCC, requesting they halt the impending vote.
The letter states:
“Over 23 million comments have been submitted by a public that is clearly passionate about protecting the Internet. The FCC could not possibly have considered these adequately. Indeed, breaking with established practice, the FCC has not held a single open public meeting to hear from citizens and experts about the proposed Order.”
Trump appointee, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, favors repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order that gave the FCC the authority to prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon from blocking, throttling, or favoring certain online content.
Since Trump named Pai his FCC chair, the agency charged with defending the airwaves against corporate rule has been surreptitiously whittling away at its established mission.
In May, the FCC voted two-to-one to begin unraveling the key 2015 decision, the first stage in dismantling net neutrality rules which permit the FCC to regulate the internet like a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act instead of a luxury for those who can afford it.
States immediately retaliated, threatening to enact laws to prevent ISPs from discriminating against content.
Pai–a former Verizon lawyer–argues lifting the rules will allow ISPs to offer “innovative” service packages and invest more in infrastructure.
Digital rights activists counter that the 2015 rules are needed to prevent big telecom companies from exploiting the internet to maximize profits, fearing they will construct barriers to internet access for low-income consumers and minorities.
Digital rights group Fight for the Future, which has successfully swayed Congress with previous online mobilization efforts, says we can still save net neutrality if enough people participate in online protests and call their representatives in Washington.
Fight for the Future co-director Holmes Wilson recently told supporters in an email:
“We’re already seeing key lawmakers crack under the pressure and come out in support of net neutrality. We’re organizing a mass online action for the 48 hours before the vote to drive hundreds of thousands more phone calls when we need them most.”
One of those lawmakers “cracking under the pressure” is Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
Some net neutrality proponents say Congress could settle the debate by passing legislation mandating net neutrality rules.
Critics argue the $101 million in campaign donations from ISPs have been reaching lawmakers of both parties since 1989 is a significant hindrance to progress.
Several progressive house members like Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) are scheduled to address Thursday’s rally.
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