Somehow, Activists Have Put Protecting Net Neutrality Back on the Agenda

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[Commentary] When Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler initially proposed rules to allow telecoms to charge Internet companies for access to a “fast lane” to speed content to their users, plenty of people sounded the death rattle for the principle of net neutrality.

A few weeks later, despite the passage of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a party-line vote similar to Chairman Wheeler’s original plan, the tenor of the debate has shifted. Under massive public pressure, the FCC has shown itself more responsive than Congress, opening up a legitimate debate over the rules.

Tech firms have linked arms with the public against the Chairman Wheeler proposal. And what activists consider the only path to true net neutrality -- reclassifying broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act as a common carrier service, allowing the FCC to regulate it like phone lines -- has moved from an impossible dream to a more viable alternative.

People power did this -- that allegedly outdated work of targeted mass organizing that isn’t supposed to make a difference in our increasingly oligarchical society. Over 3.4 million Internet users took action in some form against the FCC’s proposed rules, according to Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. Dozens of protesters “occupied” the FCC, camping out for a week in tents, joined by hundreds in a mass rally outside the meeting room.

The grassroots pressure got tech firms off the sidelines. The effect of all this work could be seen in the actions of Democratic FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, who heard plenty of personal appeals for serious protections.

Somehow, Activists Have Put Protecting Net Neutrality Back on the Agenda