WASHINGTON – Google, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter and Amazon were among some 80,000 websites that willingly throttled data speeds and disrupted service to billions of internet users today as part of a protest against the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to scrap the Obama administration’s net neutrality rule.
The protest, Battle for the Net’s “Day of Action,” served as a virtual demonstration against allowing telecommunications companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T greater control over internet traffic. The group has warned against widespread throttling, blocking, censorship and higher service fees with the potential lifting of the net neutrality rule.
Adopted in 2015 through the Open Internet Order, the Obama administration’s rule prohibited internet service providers from throttling website data traffic for financial gain, while reclassifying ISPs from information services to public utilities. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican and former Verizon attorney, has proposed undoing the 2015 rule, re-classifying the internet as a private mobile service and loosening regulations for broadband providers. He has argued that Obama’s regulations are draconian and have stifled innovation. The FCC in May voted 2-1 in favor of issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would set the reclassification into motion.
The conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute described today’s protest as an endorsement for big-government suppression of free speech.
“The FCC’s current regime denies Internet providers – and, in turn, their current and potential customers – the freedom to experiment with novel approaches to pricing and services,” Ryan Radia, a fellow with the group, wrote in a statement Tuesday.
In one example, Radia said that the FCC’s so-called Title II rules deny access to sponsored data products, which allow subscribers to use certain apps on “an unlimited basis, without any data caps or overage fees.”
Senate Democrats convened in Washington today in a show of support for the Day of Action. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been extremely vocal on the issue, said that the best principles of democracy won out in 2015 with the Open Internet Order. He added that any claims that net neutrality has stifled innovation are “so bogus it’s insulting,” noting that there has been no shortage of innovation the past two years. The former Saturday Night Live actor said Chairman Pai should “be ashamed of himself.”
“The only thing that doesn’t need net neutrality protections is Donald Trump’s Twitter account, but everything else does,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) quipped, calling the protest a “historic fight.”
Markey said that the Trump administration is leading an all-out assault on democratic values in every aspect of life. Other major companies joining the virtual demonstration included Snapchat, Mozilla, Reddit, Pinterest, Imgur, Yelp and AirBnB. Many Democratic congressional offices throttled speeds for their websites, as well.
“Big broadband, and their Republican allies, want to turn back the clock so that they can be the gatekeepers of internet access,” Markey said. “A free and open internet is our right, and we will fight to defend it.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that President Trump should enjoy the same privileges as every other American internet user with his Twitter account.
“It’s entitled to as much protection as any other free expression, and net neutrality is fundamentally about First Amendment freedom of expression, and this bottom-up movement, this citizen activism, will win the day for us because it’s about the rule of law,” he said.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said the FCC’s plan to squash the net neutrality rule will create an “information aristocracy,” while allowing internet providers to immediately return to paid-prioritization approaches in delivering data.
“Without net neutrality, the internet as we know it ends,” Wyden said.