With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slated to vote on Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to kill net neutrality on Dec. 14, open internet advocates and free press groups participated in planned protests on Thursday at congressional offices and more than 700 Verizon stores in all 50 states, plus D.C.
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Ahead of the day of action, BattlefortheNet.com, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, and Free Press Action Fund partnered to launch a website featuring an interactive map to help supporters locate demonstrations in their area as well as a three-page guide for organizing protests.
Protesters are targeting Verizon because Pai is a former lobbyist for the company, which has—along with major internet service providers (ISPs) Comcast and AT&T—invested heavily in pressuring lawmakers to support policies that benefit telecom companies at the expense of consumers.
Despite the ongoing lobbying efforts, those who have helped organize the demonstrations remain hopeful that widespread outrage over Pai's plan could push members of Congress to take action to protect net neutrality.
"Under Pai's leadership the FCC has made a mockery of our democratic process," said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer. "With a rogue FCC commissioner blatantly captured by the industry he is supposed to provide oversight for, Congress must do their job and take action to stop the FCC vote on Dec. 14."
"Despite the outpouring of support for net neutrality, the three men who make up the FCC's majority remain determined to ignore the democratic process and take away the rights of internet users," said Free Press Action Fund field director Mary Alice Crim, referring to the FCC's three Republican commissioners.
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However, she also noted that "the outcry from beyond the Beltway is beginning to change many minds in Washington," and "phones are ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill as people take to the streets to put the public need for an open internet before the demands of Verizon lobbyists."
"One thing is certain," Crim concluded, "Chairman Pai won't have the last word on net neutrality."
Although the future of internet regulation has been a hot-button issue since President Donald Trump appointed Pai, an industry insider, to lead the FCC, the action on the ground has intensified in recent weeks, with an official vote to roll back consumer protections—and "destroy the internet as we know it"—scheduled for next week.
"As the past two weeks have shown, people reject the ongoing love affair between hated internet service providers and D.C. policymakers," said Demand Progress communications director Mark Stanley. "Democrats and Republicans alike are willing to take action against any threat to Net Neutrality rules that protect our online rights."
A Civis Analytics poll (pdf) released in July found that 77 percent of Americans—73 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats, and 76 percent of Independents—are in favor of keeping the FCC's open internet rules, and 81 percent "agree that ISPs should not be able to block or throttle websites, or charge extra for preferred access to consumers."
Demonstrators are sharing scenes from Thursday's protests on social media with the hashtags #StoptheFCC and #NetNeutrality. Participants toted signs with messages such as "Democracy is a free internet" and "All I want for Christmas is net neutrality."
— ACLU (@ACLU) December 7, 2017