Civic Engagement

Chairman Pai Needs to Restore Integrity to FCC’s Net Neutrality Proceedings

[Commentary] Given the current climate at the Federal Communications Commission, it is not surprising that instead of writing a genuine apology, the FCC chose to dispute the fact that John Donnelly, a reporter for CQ Roll Call, was manhandled by FCC security as he attempted to ask Commissioner Michael O’Rielly a question. Following the “Save the Internet” rally that took place ahead of that day’s FCC vote to revoke net neutrality protections, open internet advocates — myself included — were treated with hostility in the FCC building when trying to access the meeting. Advocates were directed by guards to throw away signs tucked away in their bags before entering the building, and once inside, directed to the overflow room. Despite being a former FCC commissioner, guards and FCC officials made it difficult for me to enter the main meeting room even though I explained that a seat was being saved for me. I was also told that I could not stand in the back of the room. When finally seated in the press section, I was told that I could not move to any other vacant seats. It is not normal for public input to be unwelcome at the FCC, as it appears to be today. Chairman Pai must welcome comments from people of all stripes, return civility and respect to the debate and ensure that the FCC electronic filing system is prepared to handle the many more millions of comments that are expected. Americans, who have come to rely on the internet as an integral part of their lives, deserve and expect no less.

[Tristani is a special adviser to the National Hispanic Media Coalition and served as a FCC commissioner from 1997 to 2001. She is also a former executive director of the Benton Foundation.]

Does It Matter if Millions of People Send Comments to the FCC?

[Commentary] The 2015 Open Internet Order received 3.7 million comments total, and the current rulemaking has received almost 5 million to date. Counting is easy. Knowing what that count means is not...

Despite the rhetoric, few in DC have much incentive to want the issue to go away. Millions of comments to the Federal Communications Commission also represent millions of fundraising opportunities. Groups arguing all sides of the issue financially benefit from the ongoing argument. Congress, meanwhile, probably will not weigh in before the 2018 election regardless of what the Federal Communications Commission does because that would mean giving up a campaign issue likely to be lucrative to members on both sides of the aisle. Thus, in the end, I suspect that millions of comments mostly mean that even after the current rulemaking is resolved, we will be stuck with this issue at least until sometime after the 2018 election and probably longer. Setting aside politics, it still remains the case that if the issue is to take into account broader public opinion then Congress is the only institution that can resolve it and, regardless of broad interest, only legislation has a chance of leading to a stable solution. Then, we can all finally move on to something else.

[Scott Wallsten is President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute]

4 steps to writing an impactful net neutrality comment (which you should do)

[Commentary] What makes for a persuasive comment that can help build a record to preserve network neutrality rules? Here are four suggestions:
1. Write about yourself and how the net neutrality rules have affected you
2. Write about what you understand you are buying when you purchase broadband Internet access
3. Write about the choices you have (or don’t) for broadband Internet access
4. Write about what role you think the Federal Communications Commission should have in overseeing the market for broadband Internet access

Don’t worry if you’ve already filed a comment that doesn’t address these issues – you can file new comments addressing these and/or other issues. Over the course of a proceeding like this, companies and organizations on both sides of the debate will file many comments, including after they visit FCC Commissioners and staff to make their cases. So don’t hesitate - we need to build the strongest possible record if the net neutrality rules, and an open Internet, are to be preserved.

[Gigi Sohn is a Fellow with Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy, the Open Society Foundations and Mozilla. She served as Counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler from November 2013-December 2016.]

FCC makes net neutrality commenters’ e-mail addresses public through API

If you’re one of the many people filing comments on the Federal Communications Commission plan to gut network neutrality rules, be aware that your e-mail address and any other information you submit could be made public. There’s nothing nefarious going on, but the FCC’s privacy policy could lead people to believe that e-mail addresses will be kept secret if they file comments on FCC proceedings.

The commission’s privacy policy has a section titled “Comments,” which says the following: "Prior to commenting, you will be prompted to login, either by providing your e-mail address, or by linking your comment to an existing account on a popular website such as Google, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram or Twitter. While your e-mail address will not be made public, if you login with a social media service, your picture, as well as a link to your profile will be posted alongside your comment." However, this privacy policy applies not to comments on FCC proceedings but to comments on blog posts, such as those posted by Chairman Ajit Pai. When you go to submit comments on the net neutrality plan—or any other FCC proceeding—you are told the following: “You are filing a document into an official FCC proceeding. All information submitted, including names and addresses, will be publicly available via the web.”

Remarks of Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Voices for Internet Freedom Forum

Just as we need the First Amendment to protect basic speech, we need those very same ideals, to ensure free speech and free flow of content on the internet. That First Amendment for the internet, is network neutrality, because people who control the wires and the airwaves over which we communicate, have a unique ability to shape what we see, say, and hear.

So why I am here tonight? I can sum it up in two ways. First, I want to hear your stories, take them back to the Federal Communications Commission, and make sure they are part of the conversation. For there are those who are attempting to minimize the value of the over four million comments we have received on line and by post, so give me your permission to mention your names and let them see your faces tonight. And I am here tonight, to tell you that these rules do not have a snowball’s chance in that perpetual furnace, if you fail to make your voices heard. So my ask is that you not only submit comments to the FCC, but call your Member of Congress, reach out to your US Senators, and let them know why an open internet is so important to you. Then you’ve got to talk about it with others, share why this thing we call net neutrality is important and valuable to them as well as every person in America. The only chance of keeping vital protections in place and not being trampled is to speak up and speak out. Silence and inaction, when it comes past movements and in this proceeding, are not your allies.

When 'bots' outnumber humans, the public comment process is meaningless

[Commentary] Over the last month, the Federal Communications Commission received 2.6 million public comments critical of Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to roll back President Obama’s "network neutrality" rules. This outpouring of public sentiment must be evidence of participatory democracy at it best, right? Not quite. A sizable percentage of these comments appear to be fake. What the net neutrality comment debacle underscores is that the Internet age may mean the collapse of the public comment process, at least for significant public policy issues.

Sophisticated bots and automated comment platforms can create thousands and thousands of comments from senders who may or may not be real. Most rulemaking pertains to subject matter that is less widely-watched than net neutrality, and usually concerns only a small sliver of the public. The public comment process has some virtues and should continue. It is time to recognize, however, that for rulemaking over issues on the scale of net neutrality, with entrenched and vocal participants on both sides of the aisle, the public comment process has become a farce.

[Peter Flaherty is president of the National Legal and Policy Center.]

FCC's Network Neutrality Docket Appears to Shrink

The Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality docket (dubbed "Restoring Internet Freedom") is some 150,000 comments lighter as of June 8. Or at least that is according to the total on the FCC's "most active proceedings" in the last 30 days page, where it still leads the top 10 by a factor of 500 or so. That still leaves 4.78 million comments, though that is down from over 4.9 million from earlier in the week after the docket swelled by a couple of million comments since the week before.

New Facebook tools aim to help connect lawmakers, constituents

Facebook released a new set of tools to help facilitate civic engagement and discourse between voters and their representatives. The new tools give both constituents and lawmakers more targeted means of interacting with another, and are a part of Facebook’s larger push to introduce civically focused features to the platform. Facebook’s three new targeted tools now give users the options to show lawmakers that they are a constituent from their district, show lawmakers what topics are trending among their own constituents and allow lawmakers to share posts targeted specifically to their voters. The “Constituent Badge,” feature will allow users to opt in to displaying a badge that they are a part of a lawmaker’s district, so that they lawmakers can know that they’re engaging with those they represent.

FCC's Open Internet Docket Explodes

The Federal Communications Commission's open internet docket, dubbed "Restoring Internet Freedom," has seen a huge wave of comments—or at least a major update of the number posted—since June 2, with over 4.9 million posted, up about 2 million from June 2's 2.9 million-plus. Sen Ed Markey (D-MA), an opponent of Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back Title II, said earlier in 2017 he thought the comments would dwarf those in the docket for the 2015 Open Internet order—over 4 million. With still more than two months left in the comment cycle, he could be right.

In Trump’s America, Black Lives Matter activists grow wary of their smartphones

As a long-time political activist, Malkia Cyril knows how smartphones helped fuel Black Lives Matter protests with outraged tweets and viral video. But now Cyril is having second thoughts about her iPhone. Is it a friend or a foe?

For all of the power of smartphones as organizing tools, the many streams of data they emit also are a boon to police wielding high-tech surveillance gear, allowing them to potentially track movements and communications that activists such as Cyril would rather keep private. Such worries are driving a nationwide push by Cyril and other activists to train members of their movement in the tactics of digital defense — something they say is crucial with an aggressive new president who has displayed little sympathy for their causes.