It’s been about five years since tech companies, activists and others joined forces to stop potentially disastrous anti-piracy legislation.
Those same players, including Google — which in 2012 blacked out the colorful logo on its search page as part of the anti-SOPA protest — are taking part in Wednesday’s online Day of Action to try to protect net neutrality rules.
But it’s doubtful the giant collective action will work this time, at least not at first.
The Federal Communications Commission under President Trump is set to be majority Republican and has a new chairman who voted against the Open Internet rules adopted in 2015 and is now itching to get rid of them.
The FCC already has received a record number of public comments — 6 million and counting — about the issue, but Chairman Ajit Pai has given no indication he will listen. Pai, a Republican who was a commissioner before President Trump appointed him chairman, is anti-regulation and claims that net neutrality rules discourage broadband investment.
(The Trump administration already has handed a win this year to broadband companies in the form of rolling back privacy protections enacted under the Obama administration. Because of a resolution Trump signed in April, broadband providers won’t have to abide by stricter rules that required them to inform their customers about how their personal information is used.)
Still, the Day of Action participants are encouraging people to submit their net neutrality comments to the FCC and to lawmakers. The first deadline for public comments to the FCC about this issue is July 17.
Net neutrality, the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally, has the support of companies big and small, activists and investors who want startups to get the same chance that the YouTubes and Netflixes of the world had when they were getting off the ground.
The rules in place prohibit internet service providers from favoring some content over others, or the establishment of fast and slow lanes online.
Broadband and wireless providers say they support net neutrality, but they have a different definition of it. For example, AT&T wrote a blog post Tuesday saying it’s joining today’s Day of Action, even though it is an internet service provider that has expressed support for Pai’s effort to roll back the Open Internet rules.
AT&T’s explanation: The classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act — which gave the legal basis for FCC authority to regulate broadband — is wrong and outdated. The telecom giant is advocating for new legislation “that will last longer than the next presidential administration,” saying the cycle of FCC rule-making followed by legal action is tiresome and only new legislation can fix it.
That’s in line with an op-ed by Sen. John Thune. R-South Dakota, in Recode. Thune says legislation is needed to ensure stability on this issue. As we’ve seen, the rules can change depending on which political party is in the majority.
“The solution to this dilemma, passing enduring bipartisan legislation, is obvious and — no, I’m not kidding — within Congress’s reach,” Thune wrote.
But Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, isn’t as optimistic. In a phone interview with SiliconBeat recently, Eshoo said Republicans don’t want to give the FCC any authority, and that “if I drew up the bill right now they wouldn’t support it.
“Congress is on the wrong side of history on this,” she added.
As for the organizers of today’s Day of Action — which has inspired high-minded blog posts from Google, Twitter and others, and faux slowdowns on sites such as Reddit — they’re gearing up for a long fight.
“Today’s day of action is very much the kick off for a broader campaign of sustained pressure on the FCC and Congress,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, in an emailed response to SiliconBeat Wednesday. “This FCC chairman has made it clear he is not listening to the public, he’s only listening to telecom lobbyists.”
Photo: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies about the fiscal year 2018 budget request during an Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 20, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Tags: Ajit Pai, broadband, day of action, Donald Trump, fcc, net neutrality