Internet Day of Action planned to support net neutrality
Friday, June 09, 2017
When Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced his plan to begin rolling back net neutrality regulations put in place by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, it came as a huge disappointment to the vast majority of tech observers and consumer advocates. Even before Pai had released the plan, some politicians and open-internet activists held a news conference vowing to fight the repeal outline.
However, Pai's April 26 speech in Washington, D.C., was nothing if not expected. After all, Pai and fellow commissioner Michael O’Rielly — both Republicans who now make up a majority on the Commission under the administration of President Donald Trump — have been consistently critical of the current net neutrality regime and supportive of the interests of the largest internet service providers.
Six weeks after the plan to end net neutrality as we currently know it was announced by Pai, those who want to protect the regulations have unveiled their first major mass organizing tool: the Internet Day of Action on July 12.
On that day, tech luminaries like Amazon, Kickstarter, Mozilla and Reddit, along with left-leaning political organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Democracy for America will encourage net neutrality supporters to comment on the FCC's website in support of the current regulations. The aim is to ensure net neutrality remains under Title II of the Communications Act, which treats the internet as an effective utility.
The effort comes just five days before a crucial FCC comment deadline on Pai's plan, and is led by the "Battle for the Net" group, created by three consumer-advocacy organizations: Fight for the Future, Free Press and Demand Progress.
If that sounds like a familiar strategy in fighting to ensure net neutrality, that's because it is.
That same Battle for the Net group mobilized in September 2014 when Wheeler's FCC unveiled a highly controversial "fast lanes" proposal that had the potential to allow preferential faster access to some internet services, provided they paid an internet service provider. Most of the same tech and nonprofit groups participated in that action, called Internet Slowdown Day. Many sites elected to put symbolic loading wheels (at right) on the web as a call for action.
It's not known yet whether the July 12 Internet Day of Action will utilize similar user-facing tactics, but USA Today reports that a live event is possible, and that sites and social media handles will likely have some reference to the day and links to comment.
The fast lanes proposal never ended up becoming official FCC regulation, culminating in Wheeler's Title II rules in February 2015. So in some sense, actions like Internet Slowdown Day worked to protect net neutrality.
But there's significant reason to be more pessimistic this time around.
For starters, Pai, who was appointed by Trump as chairman in January, has the same view as Trump on net neutrality — that the regulations should go. Despite Wheeler being a Democrat and serving under Barack Obama, the then-President had to announce his support for Title II regulations — while fast lanes were still under consideration — in a late 2014 YouTube video. Obama's video was undoubtedly a huge turning point for regulating the internet as a utility.
There will be significant outrage in the tech world should Pai's currently nebulous proposal become FCC policy. However, such an action wouldn't run afoul of Pai's boss, and O’Rielly's past comments make his vote, and thus an FCC majority, likely.
The two commissioners each want Congress to come up with a legislative fix for net neutrality, but that appears to be at an impasse on Capitol Hill.
Based on recent history, the Internet Day of Action has the promise to make an impact. However, if the FCC is as dead-set on Title II repeal as it appears to be, the day might end up as a disappointment.
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