Net Neutrality Group Turns Focus on the Hill

With the internet day of action targeting the FCC and the Hill now receding in the rearview mirror, organizer Fight for the Future (FFTF) is shifting its focus to Congress in its fight to retain Title II-based Open Internet rules.

According to campaign director Evan Greer, the group will start putting up billboards targeting legislators who support the proposal by FCC chair Ajit Pai to roll back Title II reclassification of ISPs as common carriers—Greer calls it dismantling net neutrality protections—and rethink the bright-line rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization.

Greer said the group hascrowdfunded $50,000towards the billboards, which will start going up in "the coming weeks."

The group took the same outdoor advertising tack when trying, ultimately unsuccessfully, to block Republicans' rollback of the related FCC broadband privacy regulations.

Initial public comments on the Pai proposal were due July 17, with replies due Aug. 16.

The July 12 protest drove millions of comments to the FCC, but Greer called that just the opening salvo.

FFTF has also created an online scorecard of where legislators stand on the Pai proposal. For example, in Virginia, it identifies Republican Reps. Morgan Griffith and Bob Goodlatte as being on "team cable," which means they support Pai's plan.

"Lawmakers on 'Team Cable' should expect to be targeted with billboards in the coming weeks if they do not speak out against Ajit Pai’s plan," Greer said.

While Republicans and ISPs are calling for bipartisan language that clarifies the FCC's authority to prevent blocking and throttling and anticompetitive discrimination (paid prioritization is a grayer area), the current political climate makes compromise a tough Hill to climb.

Following reports that FFTF had included Steve Scalise (R-LA.) on its list of billboard targets, Greer said that was based on a mistunderstanding.

The Internet Association, which teamed with FFTF on the July 12 protest,  had issued a statement slamming FTTF for targeting Scalise.

"The IA statement is based on an incorrect report," said Greer. "Rep Scalise’s name was included in private emails to two reporters, due to a copy paste error, and corrected once brought to our attention. We would obviously not run billboards against somebody who is in the hospital."

As to others on the list, he said: "Congress plays an important role overseeing the FCC, and voters deserve to know where their members stand. The goal of our billboards is to make sure that the public knows which members are supporting the FCC’s plan to dismantle important net neutrality protections."

Still, the fact that IA was so quick to call out a net neutrality ally could suggest there is not a monolithic front for Title II or the highway. While some Democrats may be willing to come to the table, they could use some cover from the net activist side to avoid getting excoriated by their base for being willing to talk compromise legislation, as some edge providers--Facebook notably--have indicated they are willing to do.

(Photo via Luckey Sun's FlickrImage taken on April 21, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

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.