What Next In The Campaign To Save The Internet?
Photo Credit: Popular Resistance
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The next four months are going to determine the future of the Internet. Will it remain free and open with equal access to all? There are powerful corporate interests that want to profit even more than they already do from the Internet at the expense of the public interest. But as a result of the public’s work this week, we now have an opportunity to create the Internet we want.
We intend to make this a major focus of our work because the Internet is an essential tool for people to have access to information and to communicate with each other and it is central to our work. We want your advice and involvement; your creativity and activism. To win the Internet that can’t discriminate is going to require solidarity across issues and unity in our demands.
Opening The Door
Two weeks ago, a plan to remake the Internet into a ‘pay to play’ system, more like cable TV than like the Internet of today, was leaked. The reaction in the Internet advocacy community was furious. Hundreds of thousands of calls and emails went in to the FCC to oppose the proposed new rules. That wasn’t working, so we decided to put aside our work and increase the pressure in partnership with Fight for the Future and other Internet advocacy groups.
On May 7, we started a “People’s Firewall” encampment outside the FCC doors to protect the Internet from corporate corruption. The camp grew over the next 8 days and as more tents were set up, it became known as Occupy the FCC. During the occupation, many employees stopped by to voice support or gave us thumbs up on their way into the building. Drivers honked their horns as they passed by and even a police bike brigade stopped and chanted support with us.
It was an amazing week that moved the FCC towards restoring the Internet to its original status as a utility that serves the public. Although there have been important changes since the proposed new rules were leaked, the leadership in the agency is so deeply influenced by big telecom companies that they are still off track.
The media has given our encampment outside the FCC, combined with the online work of many groups, credit for moving the debate. TIME Magazine was the first big outlet to report what was happening:
“The Internet has become a new public utility, many Net-neutrality advocates argue, and should be treated as such. The nation’s largest cable and phone companies fiercely oppose that idea — fearing greater regulation — and are mobilizing their lobbyists and allies on Capitol Hill to push back.
“The FCC’s eighth-floor executive office has been thrown into chaos amid a mounting backlash that shut down its phone lines as a growing number of open-Internet advocates camp out in front of their office.”
Then, the Washington Post reported that the FCC is listening to protesters on its doorstep. The Post clearly defined our position favoring reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier and reported how one of the five commissioners, Ajit Pai, had visited the encampment.
Shortly after that the chair of the Commission visited the encampment and talked with us for about 15 minutes. No doubt, part of Tom Wheeler’s goal was to relieve the pressure building around him and to show how he supports an open Internet. The conversation focused on how to achieve a open Internet with equal access for all. Wheeler supports a quick fix by making new rules, but these rules can be challenged or changed. We advocated for a long-term solution of reclassifying the Net as a common carrier so that the FCC can regulate it in the public’s interest and the people can hold the agency accountable for protecting net neutrality.