Diversity & Inclusion

FCC aims to gut #NetNeutrality and Philly activists aren’t pleased

"What if the electric company turned down the power for all but the richest U.S. companies?" asks privacy advocate Kate Krauss.

A Dec. 14 meeting is expected to approve the measure by 3-2. (Photo by Flickr user Santiago Cabezas, under a Creative Commons license)
There’s now an expiration date on Obama-era regulations that keep internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking, slowing down or charging money for specific websites and content: Dec. 14.

On that day, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to roll back the set of rules it passed in 2015 that essentially treated broadband access as a utility and instead leave it up to ISPs to choose how they offer internet access.

“The FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement Tuesday.

The announcement comes just months after the Trump administration passed a bill that would allow ISPs like Verizon and Comcast to sell user’s browsing data.

(Fun fact: up until January 2017, a Philly guy named Michael Janson served as the FCC’s second-ever Open Internet Ombudsman, succeeding Parul Desai. Per the D.C.-based attorney’s LinkedIn profile, he’s still at the commission and serves as assistant bureau chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and deputy director of the Rural Broadband Auctions Taskforce. Calls and emails to the office about the current status of the position were not immediately returned.)

Comcast, which has publicly stated that it will not block or throttle content or specific sites, welcomed the proposal.

“We applaud the Chairman’s efforts to repeal the ill-advised and outdated burden of Title II classification, which has harmed broadband investment and innovation,” said Comcast’s David Cohen in a blog post published Tuesday. “We also commend the imposition of a transparency rule that requires ISPs to disclose their net neutrality practices to consumers. It is paramount that consumers know what their ISPs are doing.”

But Media Mobilizing Project (MMP) Policy Director Hannah Sassaman disagrees with Comcast’s depiction of the move.

“The laws Congress wrote governing our right to communicate are the bedrock of the FCC’s Open Internet Order,” she said. “Federal appeals courts have twice said that the Commission has the right and power to protect our right to communicate through Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Comcast wants Chairman Pai to jettison Title II because it gives the FCC the authority and power to treat Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and other megalith broadband providers as common carriers of internet content.”

Bryan Mercer, MMP’s executive director, said the move from the FCC poses a threat to the rights of low-income citizens and people of color.

“Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America, with a brutal digital divide, keeping primarily Black, Brown, and poor Philadelphians offline,” said Mercer in an email. “As we mobilize to transform public education, criminal justice, and to get access to desperately needed jobs, healthcare, and housing, we urgently need a free and open internet to get our voices out past the big companies who want only to profit from our human right to communicate.”

In Philly, where Comcast is among the city’s top employers, MMP is lining up to fight the looming proposal, which is expected to be approved along party lines by a margin of 3-2. On Dec. 7, the organization will join nonprofit Fight for the Future in a string of protests at Verizon retail stores. On Dec. 14, the day the measures are expected to pass, it will haul a busload of activists to the bigger D.C. protest called Net Neutrality Wake Up Call.

Meanwhile, privacy advocate and former Tor Project Public Policy Director Kate Krauss said the decision to roll back the rules over the holidays seemed “cynical and undemocratic.”

“What if the electric company turned down the power for all but the richest U.S. companies? Technical innovation depends on full access to the Internet,” Krauss said. “It’s become an essential utility, like electricity. The FCC is ignoring this principle, along with the 22 million comments it received overwhelmingly supporting net neutrality.”

Kraus suggested those in disagreement with the measure start dialing their representatives.

“Tweeting and posting on Facebook are also useful,” the advocate said. “Calling the White House, not so much.”

Companies: Comcast / Media Mobilizing Project / Verizon

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