By Marguerite Reardon
May 13, 2014
Concerned Internet users want to make sure that the FCC and Congress hear them when it comes to keeping the Internet open and free.
Digital-rights advocacy group Free Press, other groups such as MoveOn.org, and mobile operator CREDO, which also has a social activist arm, have organized protests and phone and online campaigns to get the attention of regulators and elected officials in Washington, D.C.
In the latest move to draw attention to the issue, Free Press is organizing a public protest at 9 a.m. ET Thursday outside the Federal Communications Commission's headquarters in D.C., to coincide with the commission's open meeting where a new proposal to reinstate the FCC's Net neutrality rules will be considered. Hundreds of protesters are expected to show up to the rally and join the dozens of activists who have been taking turns since May 7 camping out in front of the FCC.
The protest will also continue online where the public is encouraged to contact congressional representatives and the FCC to support the adoption of strong Net neutrality rules.
"People realize what is at stake now. And they don't want the Internet turning into Comcast."
Becky Bond, political director, CREDO
It seems like the efforts thus far have had an effect as lawmakers, tech companies, and even fellow FCC commissioners have questioned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for reinstating Open Internet rules. On Monday, an FCC official confirmed that the chairman began circulating a revised proposal, which will be considered at Thursday's meeting. The Wall Street Journal was the first to reporton the chairman's revised proposal.
But activists say more needs to be done to ensure the Internet is protected.
"Chairman Wheeler is feeling the grassroots pressure against his pay-for-prioritization proposal," Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in the announcement for Thursday's protest. "He needs to abandon the flimsy and failed legal approach of his predecessors and reclassify Internet service providers as the common carriers they are. If preventing fast and slow lanes on the Internet is the goal, reclassification is the way forward."
What happened to Net neutrality?
In January, the FCC lost a court battle against Verizon in which its 2010 Open Internet rules were thrown out due to a legal technicality. Last month, Wheeler began circulating a proposal he had come up with to reinstate the rules. This proposal, the details of which have not been released publicly, created a public backlash as digital activists expressed concern that it didn't go far enough in protecting the Internet.
Specifically, instead of reclassifying broadband traffic as a public utility, which would give the FCC authority to regulate the Internet as a "common carrier," the FCC chairman decided to take a different legal tack that critics say not only necessitates weaker rules but will also fail in court.
The most controversial item that resulted from this approach is the notion that broadband providers could be allowed to create paid prioritization services. These services would allow broadband providers to charge Internet content companies, such a Google or Netflix, a fee for priority access on broadband networks to ensure that their traffic would arrive at its destination more quickly than traffic that has not been prioritized. This so-called "fast lane" raised the ire of activists concerned that smaller content companies would be priced out of the market and that it could raise prices for consumers.