On July 12, 2017, some of the world's largest companies, activists, and citizens protested the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to rollback (well, gut, really) network neutrality protections adopted in 2017. Here's a look at the news of the day.
The country's biggest broadband service providers, we learned, are huge, huge supporters net neutrality. Companies like Comcast and Verizon, who've sued the FCC after it's previous attempts at writing Open Internet rules -- just so the rules come out just right -- did not sit by quietly during the big online rally. They voiced their support for an Open Internet -- just not using the rules that a federal court upheld in 2016. The companies support the FCC reversing the 2015 decision so they can go back to court and find out if the FCC's next set of rules are enforceable.
- AT&T Vice President of External and Legislative Affairs Bob Quinn said the company supports the repeal of the current regulations set under Title II of the Communications Act, calling it “outdated”, and encouraged Congress to create bipartisan, net neutrality legislation.
- Verizon Senior Vice President of Federal Regulatory and Legal Affairs Will Johnson said, “The Internet is too important to have policies that change with each election. It’s time to get past the rhetoric and the pendulum swings and work together to craft a durable set of rules that protect the open Internet without discouraging the investment in the next generation of broadband networks that will enable the next generation of online services. Open Internet protections deserve to be written in ink, not pencil.”
- “Title II regulation and net neutrality are not the same thing,” said Comcast Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer David Cohen. “While some seem to want to create hysteria that the Internet as we know it will disappear if their preferred regulatory scheme isn’t in place, that’s just not reality.”
- USTelecom, the lobbying organization for large broadband providers, dismissed the rally as a campaign of large Internet-based companies. "For many of the large, powerful internet companies who have signed on to today’s net neutrality protest, the real issue here is not protecting the open internet, but protecting their bottom lines," said President and CEO Jonathan Spalter. "What’s the solution? Clean, modern net neutrality rules that safeguard consumers’ online freedoms without sacrificing their equally keen interest in stronger, faster broadband networks—and all the innovation it makes possible. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai should be commended for seeking that balance in his net neutrality proceeding. And, Congress would do right by all consumers to make these protections permanent under the law."
- NCTA – The Internet & Television Association said, "[W]e agree that internet users should have the freedom to go anywhere on the internet or to run any application with confidence that internet traffic will in no way be blocked or throttled."
Free Press, BTW, was quick to point out 10 ways broadband providers could better support network neutrality. #4 -- quit suing the FCC over the 2015 Open Internet rules.
Internet-based companies voiced their support for preserving the FCC's 2015, court-upheld rules.
- Google said, "Internet companies, innovative startups, and millions of internet users depend on these common-sense protections that prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic, segmenting the internet into paid fast lanes and slow lanes, and other discriminatory practices. Thanks in part to net neutrality, the open internet has grown to become an unrivaled source of choice, competition, innovation, free expression, and opportunity. And it should stay that way."
- Twitter Public Policy Manager Lauren Culbertson said, "Without the guiding principles of Net Neutrality, it is entirely possible Twitter would not have come from a somewhat quirky experimental 140-character SMS service to where we are today, an international company with thousands of employees and a service that incorporates pictures, video, and live streaming and connects the world to every side of what’s happening." She continued, "Net Neutrality is one of the most important free expression issues of our time because without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to charge content providers more to access the Internet or to reach other users, frustrating the free flow of information. Moreover, without Net Neutrality in force, ISPs would even be able to block content they don’t like, reject apps and content that compete with their own offerings, and arbitrarily discriminate against particular content providers by prioritizing certain Internet traffic over theirs. This is especially critical for smaller and noncommercial voices, who would be unable to pay a new ISP broadband toll for 'fast lane' service."
- The Netflix homepage included a banner that read, "Protect Internet Freedom. Defend Net Neutrality".
- Airbnb used its homepage to tell users the company was "protesting the FCC's plan to remove common-sense regulations" and provides a form for them to contact members of Congress.
- HomeAway featured a "Save #NetNeutrality" banner with a link to the Internet Association site.
- Reddit helped drive traffic to the "Battle for the Net" and included the message "The internet's less fun when your favorite sites load slowly, isn't it?"
- Dropbox General Counsel Bart Volkmer said, "[W]e strongly favor a free and open internet with fair rules that promote competition, choice, and innovation. We’ve shared this position before and it’s worth repeating."
But the debate over an Open Internet isn't just pitting the competing interests of broadband providers and Internet-based companies. According to a recent poll conducted by Civis Analytics, 77 percent of Americans support keeping the strong net neutrality rules we already have and more than 80 percent agree with the principles of net neutrality.
- “The FCC needs to listen to the public, not just lobbyists from big cable companies," said Evan Greer, campaign director for rally organizer Fight for the Future. "Today, the Internet is showing its political power. No one wants companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to have control over what we can see and do online, or to have to pay them extra fees to access the content we want. The Internet is outraged by censorship and corruption, this is our moment to defend net neutrality and fight for the future of freedom of expression. Lawmakers in Washington, DC need to understand that if they stand idly by and allow the FCC to gut these rules that are overwhelmingly supported by voters from across the political spectrum, they will be seen as enemies of the Internet and enemies of free speech.”
- "The facts are clear: The current net neutrality rules are working, they are popular, and they have been upheld in court challenges not once but twice," said Chris Lewis, Vice President at Public Knowledge. "No one should have to pay an extra toll or get permission from their broadband provider to deliver their content or services to consumers online. It’s time to take a stand to preserve these hard-fought rules that protect the internet and internet users everywhere, and the movement starts today."
- Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said, “The fact is, we have something that is already working, so why we would be urging people to take an incredibly popular policy with wide support from millions and millions of Americans and rewrite it to make it 5 percent less awful than whatever the FCC is proposing right now doesn’t make any sense."
- "The open Internet is a place for authentic storytelling by Latinos and communities of color, whose voices have been misrepresented or underrepresented by traditional media,” said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which says undoing Title II would "slash the legal foundation" for online protections. “Strong net neutrality rules, that prevent corporate gatekeepers from standing in the way of how we access and use the internet, ensure that historically underserved communities will be heard online."
- "Net neutrality is essential to 21st Century democracy," said Michael Copps, former FCC chairman and special advisor to Common Cause. "Without real open internet protections, Big Cable gatekeepers are free to filter dissent and stifle online organizing. That's why millions of Americans—and so many of companies—are speaking with one voice. We will never compromise online free speech."
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said, "“Today I stand with those who believe that a free and open internet is a foundational principle of our democracy. Its benefits can be felt across our economy and around the globe. That is why I am excited that on this day consumers, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes, including broadband providers and internet startups, are speaking out with a unified voice in favor of strong net neutrality rules grounded in Title II. Knowing that the arc of success is bent in our favor and we are on the right side of history, I remain committed to doing everything I can to protect the most empowering and inclusive platform of our time.”
Republican FCC Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly were silent on the matter on July 12.
Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, posted a video urging people to show support for net neutrality. “If we lose net neutrality, we lose the internet as we know it,” he said.
Many have called on Congress to address net neutrality protections in legislation. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman penned an op-ed for Recode saying, Like many organizers of today’s protest, I vigorously support an open internet. But as a senator representing a rural state, I am concerned that such protests often [give] short shrift to ensuring all Americans have access to high-speed internet." His solution: "passing enduring bipartisan legislation, is obvious and — no, I’m not kidding — within Congress’s reach. If Democrats and Republicans have the political support to work together, we can together enact a framework that provides the net neutrality protections wanted by so many internet users, reasonably limits the whims of partisan regulators and grants the necessary flexibility to protect consumers from future harm."
House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said, “Today’s Day of Action highlights the need for Congress to work together to protect consumers and ensure a free and open internet. The internet and the new technologies it unleashed have revolutionized the world in just a few short decades, and done so with little or no federal regulation. I again call on my Democratic colleagues, edge providers and ISPs, and all those who make up the diverse internet ecosystem that has flourished under light-touch regulation to come to the table and work with us on bipartisan legislation that preserves an open internet while not discouraging the investments necessary to fully connect all Americans. Too much is at stake to have this issue ping-pong between different FCC commissions and various courts over the next decade."
"We understand people have some passionate feelings on the issue, and we expect to hear those," said House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). But she predicted the day of action will "only be another day of confusion for consumers and users" and criticized Democrats for refusing to engage on net neutrality legislation. "What I find interesting is that we have asked Democrats for years to come to the table on this issue, only for them to hide behind political excuses."
Rep. Darrell Issa said, "You can look at criticism as an opportunity to improve your own game or you can look at it as a nuisance. Rep Issa backs an antitrust approach to open internet protections relying on the Federal Trade Commission rather than the FCC.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said, "President Obama enacted historic and tough net neutrality rules for good reason — we need strong guidelines designed to protect budding startups and businesses from large corporations that might want to stamp out their competition. We need to fight to preserve the power a free and open Internet gives the marginalized and underrepresented to organize and have their voices heard."
“Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it ends,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), speaking alongside other Democratic lawmakers outside the U.S. Capitol. “It’s just that simple.”
“The FCC and everyone in this city is going to know what the political consequences are if net neutrality is repealed,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA).
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) stressed that Democrats had been “fighting to protect and promote a free and open internet for a long time” — and did not plan to stop. “Now, the Trump administration and the ISPs want to take that away,” he charged. “I challenge my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to go back to their districts and ask their constituents if they want slower internet.”
In any case, no one expects Congress to take up this issue fast enough to get ahead of the FCC. Rep. Anna Eshoo said Republicans don’t want to give the FCC any authority, and that “if I drew up the bill right now they wouldn’t support it. Congress is on the wrong side of history on this."
This means the net neutrality fight may end up in a very familiar place: federal court.
Gigi Sohn, who was at the FCC when it passed the current regulations, says that Pai’s rules will face an immediate legal challenge that could actually lead to a durable victory. The basis of a lawsuit could deal with something even more arcane than internet regulation: the limits on the rights of regulators to change their minds.
“It will certainly make a difference to the extent that Pai has to respond” to the comments, said Sohn, a longtime champion of net neutrality who served as counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
“This is not the end of the campaign,” she added. “This is just the beginning. This is just the kickoff.”
Net neutrality supporters preparing for July 12’s online protests to defend the set of rules enacted two years ago by the Federal Communications Commission are using the freedom of speech to bolster their case.
The Obama-era rules, codified in the 2015 Open Internet Order, aim to prevent internet service providers from blocking, slowing or otherwise unreasonably discriminating against content that end-users could access. On July 12, in response to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to undo the rules, a slew of prominent websites and companies intend to show their support for net neutrality. Similar protests against a crackdown on copyright violation in 2012 were able to help move the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act bills off the table through coordinated site “blackouts.” For the net neutrality fight, participants will use memes, push notifications, banner ads and other means to drive comments to the FCC’s website before a July 17 public comment deadline. “Wednesday’s day of action is only the beginning of a massive pushback against the effort to remove essential net neutrality protections,” said Chris Lewis, vice president at digital consumer rights group Public Knowledge by email Monday. “This is especially important when broadband providers are getting into a variety of other markets where they can prefer their services over competitors, from online payments and financing to security systems and competitive video offerings.”
An interview with Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. Fast Company asked her about the state of network neutrality and the prospects for resisting President Donald Trump and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s policy effort.
Asked, "Beyond the day of action, is there an ongoing way that the campaign will continue?" Greer replied, "This is just the beginning. Even if the FCC moves ahead as quickly as possible, we’re not talking about a vote on this until at least the fall. And I think a lot of this will pivot to Congress. The FCC makes the decision on this specific proposal, but they answer to Congress, and every lawmaker should be paying attention to the fact that this is incredibly unpopular with constituents." Asked, "If the FCC does take away Title II designation, is the next move up to Congress?" Greer said, "After that, it would go to the courts. The FCC will have a tall order to prove in court that they have any good reason to do this. But I’m optimistic that we will never get there, because I do think this is going to be a tremendous mobilization on July 12th, that it’s going to change the conversation in a big way."
Three of the largest internet service providers and the cable television industry’s primary trade association have spent more than a half-billion dollars lobbying the federal government during the past decade on issues that include network neutrality, according to a MapLight analysis.
Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have spent $572 million on attempts to influence the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies since 2008. The amount represents more than $100 for each of the 5.6 million public comments on the FCC’s proposed elimination of net neutrality rules. Despite the resources devoted to the rollback by the big internet service providers, net neutrality advocates haven’t been totally bereft of support in the nation’s capital. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has spent $41.1 million lobbying in the nation’s capital. Facebook, which boasts 2 billion unique monthly users, has spent almost $43.3 million.
With each tweet, President Trump says he’s redefining the American presidency, describing his use of social media as “modern day presidential” and necessary to fight what he deems fake news. Not everyone agrees on the substance of Trump’s social media message, but both his supporters and detractors have something in common: They want access to Trump’s frenetic Twitter feed. Which is why the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven Twitter users who say their 1st Amendment rights were violated after they were blocked from reading Trump’s personal account (@realDonaldTrump, not the official @POTUS account) after criticizing him or his policies. The suit, filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, names President Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House director of social media Dan Scavino as defendants. The Knight Institute sent a letter to the White House in June threatening legal action if it didn’t heed its call to unblock followers.
An interview with Vint Cerf, the co-creator of tech that makes the internet work.
Cerf said, "My biggest concern is to equip the online netizen with tools to protect himself or herself, to detect attempts to attack or otherwise harm someone. The term 'digital literacy' is often referred to as if you can use a spreadsheet or a text editor. But I think digital literacy is closer to looking both ways before you cross the street. It’s a warning to think about what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what you’re doing, and thinking critically about what to accept and reject...Because in the absence of this kind of critical thinking, it’s easy to see how the phenomena that we’re just now labeling fake news, alternative facts [can come about]. These [problems] are showing up, and they’re reinforced in social media."
Access Now and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are among those signing onto an amicus brief supporting Facebook in its efforts to protect the anonymity of its users and alert them if they are under investigation. According to Access Now, the government, which is investigating Trump inauguration protests that turned violent, has requested that Facebook unmask the identities of three users under a gag order, which means the company can't tell the people in question about the warrants. "First, the non-disclosure order is both a prior restraint and a content-based restriction on speech and is therefore subject to the most demanding First Amendment scrutiny," the groups write. "Second, the underlying warrants are apparently calculated to invade the right of Facebook's users to speak and associate anonymously on a matter of public interest."
The minds behind LinkedIn and Zynga have a new target for disruption: American politics. Co-founders Mark Pincus and Reid Hoffman unveiled Win the Future — also known as WTF — a political network aimed at helping "Americans organize around a common platform," according to the project's website. "We need a modern people’s lobby that empowers all of us to choose our leaders and set our agenda," wrote Pincus in a post explaining WTF's philosophy. "Imagine voting for a President we're truly excited about. Imagine a government that promotes capitalism and civil rights." Other founders in WTF include former Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and venture capitalist Fred Wilson. The pair have contributed $500,000 to the project. Pincus says he views WTF as a "new movement and force within the Democratic Party, which can act like its own virtual party."
The Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality docket continues to draw a crowd of critics. The latest is House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Rep Pallone has called on the Department of Justice and the FBI to investigate whether any federal law has been broken in the filing of fake comments using stolen identities, as some have claimed.
Rep Pallone said he was also worried that some "unknown parties" may be trying to influence federal policy. hat came in a letter to attorney general Jeff Sessions and acting FBI director Andrew McCabe. Rep Pallone wants them to investigate net neutrality activist group Fight for the Future's assertion that at least 14 people had told the FCC that their identities had been used to file comments without their permission, as well as that some 450,000 identical comments were submitted by an "unknown party" that may have been using info gained via data breaches. "Federal law prohibits knowingly making any materially false statement or representation in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch," Rep Pallone's office said.
[Commentary] Recently, Amazon, Netflix, and Mozilla have taken note of the success of astroturfing and are leveraging a “stick-it-to-the-man” ethos to advocate for internet regulation, in this case advocacy to regulate internet providers under Title II of the Communications Act, which empowers the Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband through price controls as well as tax consumers to raise funds for government run networks. A culmination of their efforts will take place on a July 12th “Day of Action,” which will display their protests both on and offline to pressure Congress and the FCC to capitulate to its agenda to take control of the internet.
The event is yet another campaign funded by Battle for the Net, an organization of radical left-wing activists, including Free Press, Fight for the Future, and Demand Progress, seeking more regulation and government control over markets This July 12th, remember that what you will witness on website and browsers is one heck of an astroturf campaign, and their mission is straightforward: take control of the internet, by any means necessary.
[Roslyn Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute and served on the President Elect Transition Team for the FCC from 2016-2017.]