Last week I spoke at a rally at the Federal Communications Commission as its commissioners considered new rules regarding net neutrality – the premise that internet providers shouldn’t get to decide what you can see or say online.
And the turnout was impressive.
Activists don’t generally flood the streets for telecom issues; they tend to be left to telecom lawyers in suits who debate technical terms without much public interest or scrutiny. But this time was different. A diverse coalition gathered to tell the commission unequivocally: the battle for net neutrality is one of the most important free speech fights of the 21st century, and we can’t afford to lose.
The President and CEO of Free Press Craig Aaron kicked off the rally, warning against the FCC creating “fast lanes for the 1 percent, while leaving the 99 percent stranded on the slow road.” The Consumers Union stressed the importance of Americans’ access to services online. The Center for Media Justice and the Council on American-Islamic Relations underscored the importance of net neutrality for minority voices online. And Cheryl Leanza from the United Church of Christ spoke to the importance of open internet rules for people of faith. She explained that a “pay-to-play” regime online means minimizing the voice of minority religious and cultural populations.
As we feared, the commissioners voted in favor of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which will consider for the first time ever the possibility of an internet where service providers can negotiate agreements with content providers to pay for preferential access to users. As we explained last week, such a policy could have dire consequences for our First Amendment rights online.
The concerns of those rallied outside the FCC were strongly echoed by the two Democratic commissioners inside the chamber. Commissioner Clyburn began her remarks by explaining that, for the first time in her history as a public servant, her mother had called her to express concerns about a policy decision. Commissioner Rosenworcel worried about the rush to hear these rules considering how engrained in our lives the internet has become. She said, “There is nothing in our commercial and civic lives that will be untouched by its influence or unmoved by it power.”
While the rules are grim, there is still time for our voices to be heard. There is a 60-day comment period during which organizations and individuals can tell the FCC to reclassify the internet as a common carrier so they can enforce strong net neutrality rules and protect our rights to free speech and access to information online.
As the Commissioner Clyburn put it at last week’s hearing:
The real call to action begins after the vote today. This is your opportunity to formally make your points on the record. You have the ear of the entire FCC. The eyes of the world are on all of us.
Go here to submit your comments.
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