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'Essential to Empowerment': Groups Urge Officials to Save Net Neutrality

171 advocacy groups, including American Civil Liberties Union and Greenpeace, say rules protect free speech and equality of access

In 2015, the FCC passed a sweeping set of regulations known as the Open Internet Order that redefined the internet as a public utility, but the new chairman has put those protections on the chopping block. (Photo: Getty)

A coalition of 171 progressive groups on Tuesday sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Senate leaders urging them not to roll back the groundbreaking net neutrality protections enacted in 2015.

"Protecting net neutrality is crucial to ensuring that the internet remains a central driver of economic growth and opportunity, job creation, education, free expression, and civic organizing for everyone," the groups write. "The continuation of net neutrality is essential to the continued growth of the country and to ensuring access to social, political, and economic empowerment for all."

The letter was signed by advocacy groups across sectors, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Greenpeace, MoveOn, United We Dream, Color of Change, PEN America, and dozens of community and social justice organizations.

In 2015, under then-chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC passed a sweeping set of regulations known as the Open Internet Order that redefined the internet as a public utility and required Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to treat all content equally. But after Wheeler's resignation at the end of President Barack Obama's term, the FCC came under the control of Republican chairman Ajit Pai, who immediately launched a deregulatory attack on consumer protections and internet access. Pai has also signaled his intent to undo the Open Internet Order.

Tuesday's letter is addressed to Pai, as well as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, who recently launched a push for anti-net neutrality legislation; and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the ranking member on Thune's committee.

The groups caution that net neutrality protects competition, innovation, free speech, and equality of access.

On Wednesday, the FCC is scheduled to appear before that Senate panel for the first oversight hearing of the Trump administration—where, as The Hill notes, Democrats are sure to raise the issue of net neutrality. Progressive lawmakers held a press conference last month predicting that any efforts to undo those protections would create a "political firestorm" from proponents of an open internet.

"In order to promote continued economic, social, and political growth and innovation, it is imperative that the internet remain open and accessible to all people in the future," the letter reads. "We strongly urge you and your colleagues to protect the free and open internet and the benefits it provides to for all people."

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