Will ‘Day of Action’ have any impact on net neutrality fight?
Thursday, July 13, 2017
You might have noticed that one or more of your favorite or most-frequented websites looked slightly different Wednesday.
For example, the top trending topic on Twitter was the #NetNeutrality hashtag, promoted by the social networking site's policy account. Reddit featured a pop-up with slow-scrolling type when one accessed its main page. And the top of Netflix's website featured a message stating, "Protect Internet Freedom. Defend Net Neutrality. Take Action," with a loading wheel and directing users to the Internet Association's action page.
The changes and calls to action on popular websites were all a part of the Day of Action, organized by the Battle for the Net advocacy group. The day-long efforts aimed to raise awareness in the fight against the Federal Communications Commission's likely forthcoming repeal of the 2015 FCC rules that regulate the internet like a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. In doing so, the regulations protect net neutrality — the principle that all data and services are treated the same on the internet.
If recent history is any guide, there's reason to be optimistic.
Many of the same companies and sites participating in the Day of Action were also part of the Jan. 18, 2012, protest against the proposed SOPA and PIPA privacy laws, bills that were killed in Congress a mere two days later.
Battle for the Net itself led Internet Slowdown Day on Sept. 10, 2014, in response to the FCC's "fast lane" proposal. That effort was so successful that it culminated in the same rules tech companies and consumer advocates worked to protect Wednesday.
And yet, despite those two grassroots victories in which millions of citizens and the tech world rose up against Washington and the telecom lobby, there's a sentiment that those taking part in the Day of Action are sailing into too great of a political headwind this time.
Where Democrats held an FCC majority in both 2012 and 2014 under then-President Barack Obama, Republicans are now in charge at the Commission. Under Chairman Ajit Pai, who put Title II repeal into motion in April, it doesn't appear like the majority of commissioners will change their minds.
David McCabe of Axios wrote of the chances for the July 12 protests to have an impact, "Pai's spent the better part of the last three years aggressively criticizing the rules. His supporters — Republican lawmakers, conservative groups and the telecom industry — aren't wavering. So outrage from Silicon Valley and liberal activists doesn't carry much weight."
Furthermore, the primary way sites are directing users to act is through online comments to the FCC before the July 17 deadline on Pai's proposed rulemaking. Even before Wednesday, the Commission had received a record 5.6 million comments on its website, including being overrun with users in May. Despite the numbers, it still doesn't seem as if Pai and fellow commissioner Michael O'Rielly will have a change of heart and suddenly embrace Title II.
Also, it appears near-certain that Brendan Carr, President Donald Trump's most recent Republican nominee to the Commission, will be another voice against Title II regulation upon his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Net neutrality advocates didn't need any more bad news in the fight to save the current regulatory regime, but they got it on the eve of the Day of Action when, curiously, AT&T — an internet provider that is a strong opponent of Title II regulation — "joined" in the protest.
Among Title II opponents, AT&T was joined in the Day of Action by the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), a coalition of various businesses and nonprofits. Its website on Wednesday displayed an overlay saying, "Keep the Internet Open & Thriving" above a video calling for congressional legislation to ensure open internet rules, which AT&T also supports.
Predictably and understandably, net neutrality supporters criticized AT&T's jumping into the Day of Action as dishonest. However, with Pai's possible replacement to Title II regulation filled with vagaries like "voluntary enforcement" of net neutrality, a congressional solution to net neutrality instead of relying on the unelected FCC could be net neutrality's next hope.
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