Outside the Federal Communications Commission and around the country on Thursday, defenders of the "open internet" are rallying to protect the essence internet freedom by protesting proposed rule changes now under consideration at the FCC.
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"It's not complicated," explains journalist and co-founder of Free Press John Nichols, but the stakes couldn't be higher.
Outside the headquarters of the FCC, demonstrators are be demanding that the regulatory body strike down proposed rule changes that would create a "two-tiered internet" in which pay-to-play services would undermine the open and fair principle known as "net neutrality" which has governed the internet since its inception.
In addition to the physical protest, organizers will present 'hundreads of thousands' of signatures from people across the country who are demanding the FCC act in the interest of the public, not the cable and telecommunication giants who have been pushing rigorously to carve up the internet in the name of profit.
Led by Free Press, Fight for the Future, Common Cause, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and scores of others, the day's call for action says:
The nationwide drumbeat in support of Net Neutrality has gotten louder and louder — and on May 15th we’ll bring the noise to the FCC’s doorstep.
Activists, organizations and companies around the country will participate in a day of action online and off to oppose the FCC’s plan to allow rampant discrimination online.
Together we’ll dance, drum and shout that the agency must throw out its destructive plan and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service. This is the only way to restore real Net Neutrality.
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The FCC’s plan would allow companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to create a two-tiered Internet, with a fast lane for those who can afford it — and a dirt road for the rest of us.
The demand: Preserve the internet as we know it. Reject the rule changes offered by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Preserve net neutrality. Reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and regulate it in the public interest.
As the diverse and broad-based coalition of "open internet" advocates deliver hundreds of thousands of petition signatures to the FCC as well as protest in person outside their headquarters, the basics of the message are the same: Preserve the internet as we know it. Reject the rule changes offered by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Preserve net neutrality. Reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service and regulate it in the public interest.
"The drumbeat for real Net Neutrality has grown louder every day," said Free Press CEO Craig Aaron ahead of the day of action. "For Chairman Wheeler the choice is simple: He can either side with the phone and cable lobby and set in motion the end of an open network that is so vital to so many, or he can stand with the public. He can either abandon President Obama’s pledge to take a back seat to no one on Net Neutrality, or he can get in the driver’s seat."
And as Nichols writes:
The simple, right and necessary response to the whole question of how to maintain Net Neutrality is to reclassify broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service that can be regulated in the public interest. Indeed, as media reformers note, “The FCC can’t prevent online discrimination and blocking unless it reclassifies broadband providers as common carriers.”
While Wheeler and his aides now say they will accept some discussion of reclassification, Broadcasting & Cable magazine reports that the chairman sees the use of existing rules—rather than reclassification—as the “effective path forward.”
That is a mistake.
When a clumsy previous attempt by the FCC to establish net neutrality protections was rejected in January by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the court did not say that the commission lacked regulatory authority—simply that it needed a better approach. As David Sohn, general legal counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, has noted, the court opinion laid out “exactly how the FCC essentially tied its own hands in the case, and makes it clear that the FCC has the power to fix the problem.”
“The Court upheld the FCC’s general authority to issue rules aimed at spurring broadband deployment, and accepted the basic policy rationale for Internet neutrality as articulated by the FCC,” explained Sohn. “The arguments in favor of Internet neutrality are as strong as ever, but prior FCC decisions on how to treat broadband have painted the agency into a corner. Those decisions are not set in stone, however, and the ball is now back in the FCC’s court. The FCC should reconsider its classification of broadband Internet access and re-establish its authority to enact necessary safeguards for Internet openness.”