The Battle to Save the Internet from Trump Begins – Vanity Fair
Three years ago, as the Federal Communications Commission pondered what to do about net neutrality, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver sprang into action, offering an impassioned plea to his viewers to flood the agency’s inbox with messages in defense of a free and open Internet. By the next day, the otherwise dull F.C.C. was at the center of a media firestorm as its Web site crashed under a sudden surge of traffic.
Now, with net neutrality in greater danger than ever, Oliver is hoping for a reprise of his 2014 success. Earlier in May, he urged viewers to go to his own Web site, “gofccyourself.com,” which simplifies the commenting process for leaving messages for the F.C.C. “Every Internet group needs to come together like you successfully did three years ago,” the comedian said this month on his show. “Every subculture must join as one. Gamers, YouTube celebrities, Instagram models, and even Tom from MySpace, if you’re still alive. We need all of you.”
While the F.C.C.’s site crashed again, supporters of net neutrality now face longer odds. With the election of Donald Trump, the F.C.C. is now controlled by a Republican majority. And F.C.C. chairman Ajit Pai seems dead set on rolling back regulations that prevent Internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down traffic to certain Web sites, or charging them higher fees for faster access. On Thursday, the F.C.C. voted 2-1 along party lines at its monthly open meeting to formally reverse net-neutrality rules—a move that Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn decried as a “hollow theory of trickle-down Internet economics, suggesting that if we just remove enough regulations from your broadband provider, they will automatically improve your service.”
Existing net-neutrality rules are not dead yet: the F.C.C. still has to vote again after the months-long public comment period comes to a close. The agency has already received more than 2 million comments (though some may not be authentic). And Democrats are mobilizing to ensure there are millions more. Taking inspiration from Oliver, and from the massive social-media backlash to Republicans’ vote to roll back Internet privacy regulations earlier this year, a group of lawmakers including Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone and California Rep. Anna Eshoo are banking on the voices of concerned citizens to ramp up the pressure.
“People have had it with being rolled over by interests that are absolutely massive and gigantic,” Eshoo told Recode. Consumer and Internet advocacy groups are speaking out, too. “Net neutrality should not be used as a political tool: preserving an open Internet is good for both users and the growth of business,” Ferras Vinh, policy counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology, said in a statement Thursday. Kurt Walters, campaign director for grassroots activist group Demand Progress, said: “After today’s vote, the American public will continue to fight back against Ajit Pai’s effort to kill net neutrality every step of the way.”
For now, Pai remains focused on realizing his own vision for the Internet—one that has fewer regulations and, he argues, encourages more innovation. “Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” Pai said last month in a speech at the Newseum in Washington. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”
Even if Pai’s proposal is approved a second time, supporters of net neutrality still have options. The regulatory rollback is likely to be challenged in court by consumer advocacy groups and Internet activists. And then there’s the question of Clyburn, the Democratic commission member, whose term ends next month. If she leaves her post at the agency, the F.C.C. would lack a quorum and would be unable to decisively vote on the issue until she is replaced. It’s not the best arrow in Democrats’ quiver, but it’s a start.