There's no time like the present to save the future of the internet.
That's the message from the nation's largest and most active organizations focused on the issue of online freedom and net neutrality.
Following this week's news that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is preparing a push to pass new rules that would allow the nation's internet providers to create a two-tiered, two-speed internet by allowing corporations to pay for privileged access to broadband "fast lanes," the group's opposed to the move are warning the American people that if they don't act quickly and aggressively, the open internet they know and love could be destroyed forever.
"It's time to launch the largest protest the FCC has ever seen." —Josh Levy, Free Press
In his organization's call to arms on Thursday, executive director of Free Press Craig Aaron, asked people to consider what they would do if they learned the internet "they knew and love" had only three weeks to live: "Would you spend your time binging on listicles or the final season of Breaking Bad?" or "Would you take to the streets and raise hell?"
And in a post on Friday, the group's campaign director Josh Levy announced: "It's time to launch the largest protest the FCC has ever seen." He continued:
Under [the new FCC] rules, telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would be able to pick winners and losers online and discriminate against online content and applications. And the FCC has the nerve to call this "Net Neutrality."
You might wonder why the FCC would move forward with such an ill-advised plan. But such is the political calculus of Washington, where our policymakers tie themselves in knots to soothe corporate interests while obscuring their plans with technical jargon, hoping the public will be too confused to notice.
Well, we noticed. And we’re not happy.
In anticipation that the lovers and defenders of the internet will, in fact, choose to fight rather than roll over, Free Press and some its allies are now planning a day of direct action for May 15th where they plan to go beyond petition drives and phones calls by "rising up" against the FCC proposal with street protests in Washington, DC.
In addition to Free Press, groups like Demand Progress, Common Cause, RootsAction, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, Public Knowledge, and others have swung into action mode to fight what they fear will be the death of "net neutrality"—the key principle that has guided the web since its inception and stipulates that all online content should receive equal treatment free of corporate or government interference.
"Let’s organize like mad to save the internet, as if democracy and press freedom both depend on it ... because they do." —Jeff Cohen, RootsAction
As summarized by journalist and Free Press co-founder John Nichols at The Nation, the urgency of the groups' collective message is that net neutrality can be saved, but "only if citizens raise an outcry."
The activated groups and their members are doubly outraged that the Obama administration has strayed so far from early promises to protect the open internet. Now, despite the continued disappointments, they are vowing to highlight the profound and terrible consequences that could follow if net neutrality is destroyed.
"People are right to be outraged that Obama’s FCC is moving to extinguish an open internet," said RootsAction.org co-founder Jeff Cohen, who cited promises made in 2008 by then-candidate Obama to defend the ideals and policies of an open internet. "We must not allow net neutrality to be just another broken promise. Let’s organize like mad to save the internet, as if democracy and press freedom both depend on it ... because they do."
RootsAction.org has teamed up with Demand Progress to encourage their members to lobby both the FCC and members of Congress.
"In order to get the FCC to save net neutrality, we need to bring a lot of public and political pressure to bear right away," said Demand Progress executive director David Segal. But in order to make their voices heard and claim a victory, he acknowledged, "We'll need to enlist the help of hundreds of thousands of Americans over the next couple of weeks."
As for the new FCC rules proposed by Wheeler, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's April Glaser and Corynne Mcsherry warn the American public that the "devil will be in the details." They write:
While all we have now is a statement that a proposal for what the proposed rules might look like is being circulated in private within the FCC, the public should be poised to act. In an FCC rulemaking process, the commission issues what’s called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After the NPRM is issued, the public is invited to comment to the FCC about how their proposal will affect the interest of the public.
The FCC is required by law to respond to public comments, so it’s extremely important that we let the FCC know that rules that let ISPs pick and choose how certain companies reach consumers will not be tolerated.
"The next three weeks are absolutely crucial to building the public pressure it will take to get the FCC to scrap this wreck and do what it should have done in the first place." —Craig Aaron, Free Press
According to Craig Aaron, that leaves approximately three weeks to save the internet by killing Wheeler's proposal and again trying to force the FCC to do what experts—not to mention the federal courts—have said is the best solution: reclassify broadband as a public utility.
"Now is the time for action," said Aaron. "The next three weeks are absolutely crucial to building the public pressure it will take to get the FCC to scrap this wreck and do what it should have done in the first place."
As he explains, a federal court decision earlier this year "told the FCC that if it wishes to ensure Internet users can send and receive information free from ISP interference, then the agency must classify ISPs as telecom carriers under Title II of the Communications Act."
Though reclassifying broadband wont be easy, admits Aaron—noting the army of lobbyists which powers the telecom industry's political operation —the decision to do so would put the FCC on much stronger legal footing. Moreover, he says: "It’s also the right thing to do — really, the only thing to do — to protect the public and safeguard the Internet’s future."
In the end, he urged, whatever it is people are willing to do to protect net neutrality and the future integrity of the free and open internet, they should "drop everything and do it right now."