"This may well be the last gasp of the open internet."
"Pai's notion of a fair and open internet is one that works for the highest bidder, and it just leaves everyone else behind."
—Sen. Elizabeth Warren
So declared Common Cause's Michael Copps ahead of the Republican-controlled FCC's planned vote to kill net neutrality on Thursday, capturing the sense of urgency felt by consumer advocates, civil rights organizations, and progressive lawmakers as they mobilized in a last-ditch expression of dissent against chairman Ajit Pai's bid to hand the web over to massive telecom companies.
"Pai's notion of a fair and open internet is one that works for the highest bidder, and it just leaves everyone else behind," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, echoing the sentiments of nearly 40 of her colleagues who have called on Pai to cancel Thursday's vote. "If the FCC eliminates net neutrality protections, giant internet companies will pop open those champagne bottles. They will have the power to block access, to filter content, to charge more—three powerful ways that they will pick the next round of America's winners and losers."
As Warren spoke, internet defenders demonstrated outside of FCC headquarters in the freezing D.C. weather, denouncing the Republican commissioners backing the elimination of net neutrality protections as the three "telecom stooges."
Protests continued into Thursday morning, as hundreds of Americans headed to the nation's capital for a "Net Neutrality Wake-Up Call."
"Chairman Pai expects the public to be asleep to the fact that repealing net neutrality will only benefit greedy companies like Verizon," Steven Renderos, organizing director for the Center for Media Justice, said in a statement. "Today's rally is a wake-up call to the FCC, members of Congress and the president that we will continue to fight for equal access to the internet where our voices are protected and heard."
The FCC's vote on Thursday will come just weeks after Pai introduced his plan right before Thanksgiving—a move critics slammed as an attempt to hide deeply unpopular proposals under the cover of the holiday. Now, Pai and his two Republican allies at the FCC are set to place "a lump of coal in the internet's stocking" just days before Christmas.
"Chairman Pai expects the public to be asleep to the fact that repealing net neutrality will only benefit greedy companies like Verizon."
—Steven Renderos, Center for Media Justice
In the period between his plan's release and Thursday's vote, Pai's proposals have been pilloried by a wide range of critics, including some of the web's pioneers and major websites. Hundreds of demonstrations have also taken place nationwide.
As Common Dreams reported on Wednesday, polls have consistently shown that the public is overwhelmingly on the side of net neutrality. A University of Maryland published Monday found that 75 percent of Americans believe that by moving to gut net neutrality protections, Pai is "basically giving [internet service providers] a license to steal from consumers."
Pai, however, seems perfectly content to "disregard the will of the people he's supposed to serve," Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, said in a statement ahead of Thursday's vote.
Aaron concluded with a vow to sue the FCC if—as expected—the agency votes along party lines to approve Pai's plan.
"Despite undeniable public opposition across the country, the political spectrum and every corner of the internet, Ajit Pai is rushing forward with a plan that threatens to destroy the internet’s democratic, innovative, and liberating nature," Aaron said. "Let me be clear: Ajit Pai will not have the last word on Net Neutrality. Free Press intends to sue the FCC on the basis of its broken process, deeply flawed legal reasoning, willful rejection of evidence that contradicts its preordained conclusions, and absolute disregard for public input. We have a very strong case in court."