Why the July 12 net neutrality day of action in the United States matters

By: Obert Madondo |  | Published July 12, 2017, by The Canadian Progressive

Photo credit: Martin Krolikowski / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Today, July 12, 2017, is net neutrality day of action in the United States. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that pushes for government transparency and digital rights, calls it the day a coalition of websites, technology companies, digital rights organizations, and internet users joined forces to protest the plan by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “to toss out net neutrality rules that preserve Internet freedom and prevent cable and telecommunications companies from controlling what we can see and do online.”

Notable websites taking part in the protest include Amazon, Facebook, Google, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit and Twitter. Notable public interest and civil rights groups include ACLU, EFF, Greenpeace, Common Cause, Color of Change, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, OpenMedia, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Center for Media Justice.

Most of the protesters’ website homepages carried messages providing viewers with a taste of how the web would be experienced in the event of the death of net neutrality. The rights groups condemned the FCC’s confirmed plan kill Title II, “the legal foundation for Net Neutrality rules that protect online free speech and innovation.” They urged their members to ask the FCC and its new pro-industry chair, Ajit Pai, to drop their planned repeal of former FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s 2015 Open Internet Order .

What’s goddamn neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) have no right to control what we see and do online. I quite like Wikipedia’s take: “Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.”

According to EFF, without net neutrality, ISPs “can block your favorite content, throttle or slow down Internet speeds to disadvantage competitors’ content, or make you pay more than you already do to access movies and other online entertainment.”

Federal Communications Commission

U.S. President Donald Trump’s appointment of Pai as the head of the independent regulator of the United States’ communications policy will have a lasting negative impact on net neutrality. Educated at Harvard University and the University of Chicago, Pai is a former legal counselor for U.S. telecom giant Verizon. He’s a confirmed member of the Republican party.  He’s also famous for opposing the Open Internet Order.

As The New York Times reported back in February, as soon as Trump had picked him to lead the FCC, Pai “aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency.” According to the NYT:

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market.

In total, as the chairman of the F.C.C., Mr. Pai released about a dozen actions in the last week, many buried in the agency’s website and not publicly announced, stunning consumer advocacy groups and telecom analysts. They said Mr. Pai’s message was clear: The F.C.C., an independent agency, will mirror the Trump administration’s rapid unwinding of government regulations that businesses fought against during the Obama administration.

In May, TechDirt wrote about the “strategy of Ajit Pai and Congress to kill net neutrality while pretending that they were protecting net neutrality.”

According to Battle for the Net, a campaign initiated by Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press Action Fund, if big cable companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon succeed in their ongoing efforts to lobby the FCC and Congress to end net neutrality, they will acquire frightening powers. The power to slow sites down. The power to “bully any site into paying millions to escape the “slow lane.” Basically:

This would amount to a tax on every sector of the American economy. Every site would cost more, since they’d all have to pay big cable. Worse, it would extinguish the startups and independent voices who can’t afford to pay. If we lose net neutrality, the Internet will never be the same.

Why exactly net neutrality makes this Internet thing awesome? Watch:

Watch Evan Greer, the campaign director of Fight for the Future, and former FCC commissioner Michael Copps, explain the importance of the fight for the future of the Internet as we know it in the following interview with Democracy Now!:

For Mike Masnick, the editor of the Techdirt blog, while the fight at the FCC matters, “the end game is Congress.” And, Masnick wrote earlier today, “we all know that bad stuff can happen in Congress (especially when it comes to broadband providers writing legislation themselves). But (and this is the important part): the best way to stop bad stuff from happening in Congress is to speak up.”

Canada’s net neutrality success story

Masnick’s placing of the “end game” in the U.S. Congress has had me thinking all day: how luck we Canadians are. Mostly because we currently have a government that digs net neutrality. I can’t help quoting Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, on this point:

The Liberal government has been a staunch supporter of net neutrality, regularly citing its importance. For example, Budget 2017 referenced the need to “benefit from an open and innovative Internet” and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains has emphasized the value of an open Internet in discussing telecom policy. When the Province of Quebec’s unveiled plans to mandate blocking of unlicensed gambling websites, Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly responded by focusing on the need for net neutrality and the equal treatment of Internet content…

The Canadian net neutrality success story is notable for how the government, regulator, many companies (including more recently larger providers such as Rogers and TekSavvy), and the public have supported net neutrality policies. Yet what lies behind the policies are also the real-world net neutrality threats that have emerged over the past decade.

We’ve come a long way since 2005, when Telus blocked its subscribers’ access Voices for Change, a site that was being used by members of the Telecommunications Workers Union to fight for their rights.

Other countries with neutrality regulations include Chile and the Netherlands.

Five years ago, we killed the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The fight to keep the Internet free and open must continue.

“It’s our Internet and we will defend it,” said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. “We won’t allow cable companies and ISPs, which already garner immense profits from customers, to become Internet gatekeepers.”

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad