Net neutrality fight: Female senators, advocacy groups take aim at FCC chair

The battle over net neutrality is heating up, with advocates taking their fight offline — and questioning the FCC’s claim of attacks on its online-commenting system.

In addition, 14 female Democratic U.S. senators sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday, saying they’re concerned about his plan to roll back the net neutrality rules adopted under the Obama administration and how it would affect women.

Net neutrality, the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally, is in danger under Pai — who’s President Trump’s pick for new chairman of the FCC — and the agency’s present makeup of two Republicans and one Democrat.

With less than two weeks to go until the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to begin discussion on Pai’s proposal, opponents of his plan are taking action.

They include John Oliver, the comedian whose bit on net neutrality a few years ago brought the issue to a wider audience and is credited with helping get the rules passed in 2015. He talked about net neutrality again on his HBO show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” over the weekend, urging people to “go FCC yourself” and bombard the agency with comments.

The FCC’s commenting system appeared to be overloaded Monday, but the agency released a statement saying it was because its site was targeted by distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks starting Sunday night — not because of a flood of comments.

Fight for the Future, an internet advocacy group, is skeptical of the FCC’s claim.

“The FCC’s statement today raises a lot of questions, and the agency should act immediately to ensure that voices of the public are not being silenced as it considers a move that would affect every single person that uses the Internet,” Evan Greer, campaign director for the group, said in an emailed statement.

Greer is calling on the FCC to “immediately release its logs to an independent security analyst or major news outlet to verify exactly what happened [Sunday] night.”

Here’s what else happened Sunday: Members of Protect our Internet went door to door in Pai’s neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, placing door hangers with his face on them to raise awareness about his push. They also plan to protest in front of his house starting this Sunday, and at the FCC’s offices leading up to Pai’s introduction of his plan on May 18.

Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has opposed net neutrality rules for a while. He says he favors a “light touch” approach to regulation of internet access, and claims regulations hinder innovation. And some Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill to try to kill the rules and limit the FCC’s authority to regulate internet access providers.

The female senators who wrote to Pai this week say net neutrality helps women.

“It affords women-owned businesses and startups an even playing field when competing with more established brands and content,” the senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, wrote. They also mentioned net neutrality’s importance to female voices in the media, as well as the open internet’s role in helping women organize and participate politically.

By the way, when we checked May 5, the FCC had received more than 30,000 online comments about the issue. Today, there are more than 495,000 comments.

After Pai formally introduces his plan May 18, the public will have 90 more days to make comments on the FCC website.

 

Photo: Ajit Pai, then an FCC commissioner, speaks during an open hearing and vote on net neutrality in Washington on Feb. 26, 2015. As the new FCC chairman, Pai is now pushing to roll back the net neutrality rules adopted against his wishes that year. (Pablo Martinez/AP)

 

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