Major technology companies and tech advocacy organizations are banding together in a last-ditch effort to save the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules.
On Wednesday, companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, along with lawmakers and other tech groups, will stage a net neutrality “Day of Action” aimed at stopping FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from scrapping the net neutrality rules approved by the agency in 2015.
Some participating internet companies, organized by pro-net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future, will have prompts and banners on their websites urging users to fight back against Pai’s initiative.Vimeo, for example, plans to show users who visit its site a pop up video with an explanation of its arguments on net neutrality before prompting its users to file comments to the FCC in support of the regulations.
“It’s a critical issue for us as a video platform, we stream the highest content bandwidth there is,” said Vimeo’s general counsel, Michael Cheah. “Our users, they’re the ones that provide the content, they’re at risk of being throttled.”
The rules, formally known as the Open Internet Order of 2015, were created with the goal of protecting net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers should treat traffic from websites or apps equally and not be able to slow down or block content.
Pai is pursuing a plan that, if approved, would significantly roll back these regulations on internet providers. He argues that the rules are a “bureaucratic straitjacket” impeding investment in broadband by companies like AT&T, Verizon and Cox Communications.
Broadband companies have fought the FCC’s action, pointing to statistics they say illustrate decreased investment in broadband infrastructure, harming consumers. They say they intend to adhere to net neutrality principles of a free and open internet.
Groups like the Internet Association, a Washington trade group representing internet companies like Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, dispute the FCC and broadband companies’ numbers and say net neutrality hasn’t depressed broadband investment.
The Internet Association will participate in the day of action by launching its own GIF-laden website explaining its position on net neutrality. The site will also prompt visitors to file comments with the FCC.
The online activism is reminiscent of the techniques that major websites used in 2012 to stop legislation in Congress aimed at preventing online piracy. Websites like Wikipedia, Reddit and others went black in protest, and the outcry over the legislation ultimately caused lawmakers to abandon the legislation.
Lawmakers opposed to curbing net neutrality will also be taking part in the activism. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) will hold a news conference objecting to Pai’s plan, which other lawmakers like Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) will attend.
Polis, who is running for governor of Colorado, will also submit an official comment to the FCC supporting the rules.
“I am proud to have joined so many Americans in submitting comments opposing this rollback with my own comment letter and will continue to fight for an open and free internet,” Polis said in a statement emailed to The Hill. “The repeal of net neutrality openly favors internet providers closing down the internet as we know it, instead of protecting Americans’ access to dynamic content and a free and open online ecosystem.”
Still, with a Republican majority controlling the FCC and President Trump supportive of rolling back the rules, there’s reason to doubt that the online activism will do much to change the agency’s course.
Top Republicans in Congress, like Sen. John Thune (S.D.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), have voiced their support for Pai’s intentions to roll back net neutrality. Broadband companies are also digging their feet in against the day of action.
AT&T announced Tuesday that it would join the day of action despite having consistently made pushes against the rules.
“[AT&T joining the day of action] may seem like an anomaly to many people who might question why AT&T is joining with those who have differing viewpoints on how to ensure an open and free internet,” said Bob Quinn, AT&T’s vice president of regulatory affairs.
“But that’s exactly the point — we all agree that an open internet is critical for ensuring freedom of expression and a free flow of ideas and commerce in the United States and around the world,” he continued.
Fight for the Future quickly disavowed AT&T’s attempt to join in, calling the move “ridiculous.”
Even though Pai seems determined to reverse the net neutrality rules, some are still optimistic the day of action can have an impact.
“[Pai] is not unconcerned with public perception,” Cheah said. “The FCC is probably more perceptible to public pressure than most people think. Pai does not make these decisions in a vacuum.”