Activists Decry FCC Vote as Existential ‘Net Threat

The FCC’s vote to roll back net neutrality regs—which FCC chairman Ajit Pai had suggested last week was all but a done deal--drew boos from activists who had been pushing back hard and pulling out all the stops. Their rhetoric matched the pre-vote predictions of gloom and doom.

The Writers Guild of America West (WGAW) also signaled it will be suing the FCC.

The FCC voted to reclassify internet access as an information service not subject to common carrier regs, and to eliminate the rules against blocking, discriminating and paid prioritization. ISPs have pledged not to do most of that, promises the Federal Trade Commission can enforce, but that “honor system” is insufficient, critics of the rollback have said.

Former FCC chairman Mike Copps, a long-time advocate for strong network neutrality protections, saw a dystopian world slouching from the wreckage of the old rules.

“This may well be the last gasp of the open internet, as big telecom’s majority at the FCC decrees instead the Gate-keeper’s Internet—a shadowy world of monopoly, commercialism, and conspiracy in restraint of democracy that totally subverts the promise of what might have been.”

Copps is now a special advisor to Common Cause.

“This is a dark day for the internet,” echoed Sir Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the Web’s inventor. “By rolling back net neutrality rules, the FCC has cleared the path towards a dramatic overturn of how the internet works in the U.S. Rather than preserving the internet as a free market for ideas, the FCC has given a handful of companies the power to decide what lives and dies online – ignoring the millions of Americans who called for the protection of net neutrality. Now is not the time to accept defeat. We must explore all judicial and political options in order to save the free and open internet.”

“That FCC chairman Pai secured the necessary votes today to completely gut the Commission’s Open Internet rules is no surprise, but his gift to the ISPs will be challenged in court,” WGAW said in a statement. “The Chairman’s position is an ideological one and not based, as it should be, on what’s best for our nation. In his view the future of the Internet should be decided by a few powerful gatekeepers whose monopoly control over Internet access allows them to decide what content reaches viewers. The WGAW is ready once again to join with its coalition partners and take legal action to protect the open Internet. The fight is on.”

“This week’s FCC vote to destroy net neutrality is a threat to twenty-first century civil rights. Our free and open internet was built on net neutrality, and chairman Pai and the Trump administration’s decision to join hands with the telecom industry to dismantle net neutrality will forever alter the internet as we know it,” said Brandi Collins, senior campaign director for Color of Change.

"It’s hard to imagine anything further from the administration’s promise to ‘drain the swamp’ than the push from FCC chairman and former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai to end net neutrality,” said Demand Progress Communications Director Mark Stanley. “Pai’s move to gut net neutrality at the behest of big telecom is breathtaking in its total disregard for the public. After millions of comments to the FCC and thousands of people taking to the streets to protest Pai’s plan last week, it couldn’t be more clear that Americans demand strong net neutrality protections.”

"The FCC's decision to abandon its traditional role in protecting an open and free Internet will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in Internet policy history,” said the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Today, a majority of Americans have only one choice for high-speed Internet. Those users can't rely on competition to protect them from unfair practices: without the Open Internet Order, they will be at the mercy of the newly empowered Internet gatekeepers. EFF will fight in the courts, in the states, and in Congress to restore these critical rules."

“The telecom lobby spent millions trying to paint net neutrality as a partisan issue in order to get the Republican party to help end it,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future. “But this backlash shows that net neutrality is supported by people from across the political spectrum, and it's so big that now even conservative or bought out lawmakers can no longer ignore calls from their own party's constituents to protect the rules.”

“Today’s vote is an unprecedented abdication of responsibility by the FCC to protect free expression online and to promote a free market for innovation,” said Chris Lewis, VP for public knowledge. “For almost 20 years and through agency leadership from both parties, the FCC has used its power to protect an Open Internet through net neutrality policies, rules, enforcement actions, and merger conditions. With this vote, chairman Pai, Commissioner O’Reilly, and Commissioner Carr have not only left the American people without clear rules to protect an Open Internet, but also put us all at the mercy of local monopoly broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon to voluntarily commit to not harm competitors or maximize profits.”

“The majority of the FCC has just dealt a blow to equitable access to online information and services which puts libraries, our patrons, and America’s communities at risk,” said American Library Association President Jim Neal. “By rolling back essential and enforceable net neutrality protections, the FCC has enabled commercial interests at the expense of the public who depends on the internet as their primary means of information gathering, learning, and communication. We will continue to fight the FCC’s decision and advocate for strong, enforceable net neutrality protections.”

“[W]ith the Dec.14 vote, the FCC is getting out of the business of consumer protection and promoting the public interest entirely,” said Gigi Sohn, former counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose Democratic majority approved 2015 Open Internet order that the Pai FCC is reversing. “Although Republican and Democratic FCC Chairs alike have always believed that the agency has both the authority and the responsibility to protect consumers, competition and the open Internet, this unprecedented and radical decision closes that door for good. The complete abdication of the FCC’s oversight over broadband Internet access will leave every American Internet user out in the cold.”

Victor Pickard, with the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, called the rollback "a text book example of regulatory capture by commercial interests. [Chairman] Pai has displayed an utter disregard toward all voices other than those he values most: the very industries the FCC purportedly regulates."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.