‘Break the internet’ protesters, lawmakers turn up heat ahead of net neutrality vote

Two days before a scheduled vote that will likely repeal net neutrality rules, protesters are aiming to “break the internet,” while the FCC continues to field calls to delay or cancel the vote — including from a few Republican lawmakers.

Net neutrality rules prohibit broadband providers from establishing fast and slow lanes on the internet, and from treating online content differently. The regulations, approved in 2015, came after years of legislative and legal battles that included cases involving throttling internet service and more.

Democratic lawmakers sent FCC Chairman Ajit Pai another letter Tuesday, asking him to drop his “reckless plan to radically alter the free and open internet as we know it.” The letter was signed by many of the same senators who sent and signed a letter last week, including Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others, urging a delay of the vote amid questions about the veracity of the 20 million-plus public comments submitted to the FCC.

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Also Tuesday, tech companies such as Mozilla, Reddit and others are participating in protests by declaring their support for net neutrality on their websites. Advocacy group Fight for the Future is encouraging individual supporters of the cause to talk about net neutrality on social media and to call their lawmakers.

“Net neutrality is an important part to making sure that everyone has access to the internet,” said Heather West, Mozilla’s senior policy manager, in an interview with SiliconBeat Tuesday. “Outside of D.C., this is not a partisan issue.”

“It’s a little unclear to me why it’s so partisan now, given that what we’re talking about is a free market, which is something the Republicans have traditionally supported,” she added.

However, a few Republicans are breaking rank, including Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado, who tweeted Tuesday that he sent Pai a letter in which he used the FCC chairman’s past words against him.

Coffman points out that Pai, who was commissioner before he was appointed chairman by President Trump this year, opposed the approval of the Open Internet Order in 2015 and said the unelected officials of the Federal Communications Commission shouldn’t be the ones to decide “a dispute this fundamental.” Back then, Pai advocated for lawmakers to decide instead.

But the issue is mostly playing out along party lines. The partisanship is apparent within the FCC itself, with the commissioners taking public shots at one another.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, released a suggested edit of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s draft rules Tuesday. It’s a page from the draft rules, with all of the words crossed out except for each of the following circled words: “After further review of the record, we affirm the 2015 Open Internet Order.”

Clyburn and fellow Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel last week met with protesters outside the FCC chairman’s annual dinner in Washington. At that dinner, by the way, Pai took shots at Clyburn and Rosenworcel, a leaked video shows.

Rosenworcel has been writing op-eds in publications such as the Harvard Business Review.

“For businesses — especially small businesses — rolling back net neutrality could have big consequences,” she writes. “For the first time, broadband providers will have the technical capability, the business incentive, and legal authority to discriminate in the provision of internet access.”

Mozilla’s West also pointed out that a repeal of net neutrality rules could affect underserved communities that have fewer choices for ISPs, which would be unfortunate considering experts predict that broadband providers will institute different tiers of access once the regulations are thrown out.

“They will essentially have no choice,” she said. “But they’re also not going to be able to pay for premium packages that may allow a free internet.”

Meanwhile, Pai in a press release trotted out small broadband providers that have said they have been “hurt” by being classified as common providers under Title II of the Communications Act.

But advocacy group Free Press cited FCC data in disputing those claims, saying Monday that the numbers “show [the broadband providers] either greatly expanding their service territory, expanding it somewhat more modestly, or deploying new technologies and faster speeds.”

As for the question about fake comments submitted to the FCC, a newly published Wall Street Journal article provides more evidence that many of the comments were submitted without the knowledge of the people whose names they were supposed to be written by. Pai’s office has indicated the comments have no bearing on his draft order, and he has not cooperated with the New York Attorney General’s investigation into the matter. His office has called the probe politically motivated.

When reached for comment Tuesday, Pai’s press secretary, Tina Pelkey, said the FCC vote would go ahead Thursday as planned.

 

Above: A screenshot of Mozilla’s home page Tuesday as it takes part in a protest against an expected repeal of net neutrality rules. (Courtesy Mozilla)

 

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