The Internet as we know it is once again under serious attack from telecommunication behemoths. This isn't the first time that the basic egalitarian principles of what makes the Internet great and good have been put in serious jeopardy, and it certainly won't be the last. But unlike in recent years, the current leadership in the federal government appears to be exceptionally all-in for regressive change, which makes the next 60 days all the more immediate. What the hubbub essentially boils down to is the basic preservation of net neutrality, the legal principle that ensures free speech and equal access to the Internet and keeps it from going down the pay-to-play direction of cable television. Major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Verizon and Comcast want to strike down Title II of the Federal Communications Act which protects consumers from corporate telecommunications giants prioritizing some websites over others, slowing down sites, changing extra site fees, and making the Internet more akin to a corporate strip mall where ISPs can limit what you can say, see and do online.
On the one hand, you have the Trump administration's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Ajit Pai, who until very recently worked with companies like Verizon and AT&T and is pushing an agenda championed by the ISPs, and on the other the vast majority of Americans (of all political persuasions) who support a free and open Internet. To slow Pajit's roll, a massive grassroots mobilization is underway to protect net neutrality and ensure the Internet is an equalizer of information that is open to all, and not manipulated by the well-financed few. Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 12 is a national day of action leading up to the FCC's July 17 deadline for accepting public comments on Pajit's proposal. Check out this primer vid on the issue here that nicely breaks it all down.
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Earlier this week, VICE Impact caught up with Evan Greer, organizer and spokesperson for the group Fight for our Futureto discuss what's going down Wednesday and beyond and what you, dear web surfer, can do about our communications future. VICE Impact: Why specifically is "Fight for the Future" doing this and what are you ultimately hoping to gain from this day of action?
Evan Greer: So this is a moment when Internet users and web platforms and all of the great stuff that makes the Internet as we know it so powerful and such a platform for creativity and innovation and exchange of ideas to come together and make sure that decision makers in Washington DC are hearing from real people that use the Internet who will be affected by this issue, and not just from lobbyist from giant telecom companies. So the goal for the day of action is to make it easy for people to learn about net neutrality and how it affects them, and to make their voice heard in this preceding by both the FCC and our members of congress.
What is the current vibe right now? Especially with the new leadership changes in the FCC, I mean, how would you describe the current relationship and how are you feeling about substantive changes coming your way?
This chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pajit, has made it very clear that he doesn't want to listen to the public, he doesn't care what technologists or experts think, he wants to give these cable companies that he used to work for what they want. That said, the former chairman of the FCC who was in power when we won these strong protections that we have now was also a former cable-company lobbyist and was also heading in the wrong direction before we organized the Internet slowdown previous large online vocalization around this.
We have a strong track record of harnessing the power of the Internet to win victories for the public that everyone in Washington DC says are impossible to win, and that is what we intend to do here. In terms of this chairman's decision again, he's made it clear he doesn't care what the public thinks, but he still answers to Congress. And that's why it is so incredibly important that people are putting pressure on their members of Congress who oversee the FCC, and every member of Congress should be speaking out right now against this plan.
Lawmakers need to understand that if they sit back and allow this FCC to strip us of these protections and allow Internet service providers like Comcast, Version, to engage in censorship, blocking, throttling, charging us extra fees to access the content we want, those lawmakers are going to be seen as enemies of the Internet, enemies of the public, enemies of freedom of speech. For casual everyday Internet users, why is this so important and what are some of the practical implications this whole thing has on individuals?
Net neutrality is basically the first amendment of the Internet. It's the basic framework that has made it into the awesome thing that it is today. If we lose it, imagine going to a website whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, social media and seeing a message from your Internet service provider demanding that you pay them more money or upgrade your plan to their "social media package" in order to access that site. Or, imagine Comcast decides they just want to block any site that's critical of their business policies.
Without bright line rules that prevent that type of blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization, there's nothing legally to prevent Internet service providers from engaging in that type of meddling in our online experience. So, for average people, this isn't just about can you access the cat videos that you want or porn that you want it actually has a profound effect on our ability to learn about the world around us, to share our ideas and our thoughts with the world. The Internet has given more people a voice than ever before, and this FCC is currently trying to take that power away from us.
So you've got the hearing on Thursday, you've got the day of action on Wednesday, what are some other milestones in this process?
The reason the Day of Action is on Wednesday is that it's 5 days before the July 17 comments deadline, which is the initial deadline for people to give feedback to the FCC about their plan. Following that, there will what's called a "reply period", when people can continue submitting comments in reply to the initial round of comments. That will run through August. And then we will be looking at a potential vote in the FCC on this in the fall, but again.
The agency is hurdling forward with this plan that is incredibly unpopular, it has no support from the public, there really aren't members of congress speaking out in support of it yet either, very few, that are bought off by the telecom companies. Beyond that, they've been plagued by serious issues. Someone has been submitting hundreds-of-thousands of fake, anti-net neutrality comments using real people's names and addresses without their permission.
The FCC claimed that their site experienced a DDoS attack, it's gone down repeatedly other times even beyond just that initial claim of a DDoS attack. They've had a ton of problems failing at their responsibility to maintain basic tech infrastructure to receive feedback from the public, so they need to slow down. I certainly hope that the FCC will take their time to consider this feedback from the public. And I would hope that lawmakers will be stepping in and encouraging them to do that as well.
You've got the request for participation in the Day of Action, reaching out to your lawmakers. What other ways can individuals voice their support towards this effort?
We are encouraging folks to throughout the day on Wednesday, if you can, go show up at your member of Congress's office. There are district offices all over, it's likely that there is one that is within a few miles of you or not a super far drive away, so you could head over there during your lunch hour. We are going to have a nice letter that you can print out with some basic talking points on net neutrality and go and drop it off! If a number of people start doing that in each office, that's the type of thing that, you know, has the staffers calling their boss saying, "Hey we are getting a lot of people in the door about this." That's one of the most effective things people can do.
Changing your social media avatars to show you are participating is another great way to just make it visible to as many of your friends, family and followers as possible. And then beyond that, you know, throughthebattleforthenet.com site, you can sign up to become a volunteer. And the reality is that this day of action is really a kick-off to a sustained campaign that will last throughout the remainder of the summer and into the fall, and we're going to need volunteers that are willing to get involved in this fight.
We can't sit back and expect that big Internet companies are going to save us here. It's great that a lot of big names have jumped on board for this Day of Action, but in the end, it's going to come down to us, Internet users.
Why is it so important that you've got the really big titans of the Internet supporting this cause? Why is it so important that media companies like VICE be engaged on this?
The Internet has totally changed the game for so many different things. Certainly one of the most obvious is that it's had a profoundly democratizing effect on our society and on our economy, and on the media. There's just so many more options for where people can get their news and information from, and you know, sites like VICE are able to compete for folk's attention with [media outlets] that have been around for decades. And in many ways are able to innovate and find new and interesting ways to engage with audiences or report on the news and that is really powerful.
That benefits our society as a whole because we hear so many more perspectives than we have in the past when just a few media companies held the keys to all of the public's attention and their ability to learn about the world. So for me, net neutrality is absolutely an issue of freedom of the press, an issue of freedom of expression, but really it's also a fundamental principle that at this point has become a pillar in our democracy in terms of people's ability to engage meaningfully in the democratic process. And if we lose net neutrality it will essentially amount to an attack on that freedom, an attack on that power, an attack on the voice that this powerful technology has given to all of us.