Protests Gather Steam as Net Neutrality Vote Looms


WASHINGTON – Big names are adding their voices to the rising numbers of protesters fighting the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) effort to reverse net neutrality regulations. The commission’s vote on the issue is slated for Thursday.

In an open letter to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, 21 signatories said that FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s “rushed and technically incorrect” plan to repeal net neutrality “is an imminent threat to the internet we worked so hard to create.” They want the committee to ask Pai to cancel the vote.

The list of those signing that letter includes: Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder; Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Vinton Cerf, who co-created the internet’s underlying TCP/IP protocol; Steve Crocker, who helped develop the protocols for internet predecessor ARPANET; and Stephen Wolff, who helped transform the military ARPANET into a civilian research and communications network.

This group also cited a 43-page comment submitted by internet experts in July, which was critical of Pai’s plan. Among other things, it said the notice put forward a flawed definition of how the internet works, suggesting that people already expected ISPs to manipulate their data. 

“Despite this comment, the FCC did not correct its misunderstandings,” they write. “The current technically-incorrect order discards decades of careful work by FCC chairs from both parties, who understood the threats that internet access providers could pose to open markets on the internet.”

Last week, protesters visited congressional offices and Verizon stores across the country to voice their opposition to Pai’s efforts. They say a repeal will allow telecom companies to cash in on the internet at the expense of consumers.

"Ajit Pai may be owned by Verizon, but he has to answer to Congress, and lawmakers have to answer to us, their constituents,” Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, said in a statement. "This is the free speech fight of our generation and internet users are pissed off and paying attention." 

Also last week, 27 U.S. senators including Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivered a letter to Pai demanding that the FCC vote be delayed in the face of evidence that the public "record may be replete with fake or fraudulent comments, suggesting that your proposal is fundamentally flawed."

Some believe the calls are falling on deaf ears. Pai’s office has called recent requests “desperate” attempts to stall the vote.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post is reporting that a federal court is expected to weigh in on a case – possibly this month – that could leave the government less prepared to field net-neutrality grievances in the future.

The case involves AT&T and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). At stake is the FTC's ability to prosecute companies that act in unfair or deceptive ways. If AT&T wins the case, the FTC's ability to pursue misbehaving companies – regarding net neutrality issues or otherwise – may be sharply curtailed.

The FTC has the power to sue misbehaving companies that mislead or lie to the public. But that power comes with an exception: it doesn't extend to a special class of businesses that are known as “common carriers.” This group includes not just telecom companies but also oil and gas pipelines, as well as freight and cruise liners. By order of Congress, the FTC is not allowed to take enforcement actions against these types of firms.