The FCC Has Been Surrounded by Corporate Lobbyists for Too Long, Now It’s Our Turn

This article is a modified version of material from Save The Internet and Popular Resistance.


Last week we wrote about the importance of taking action to save the Internet.  The Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, is proposing new rules that will be great for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, but terrible for the rest of us. The FCC has been surrounded by corporate lobbyists for too long, now we must make our voices heard.

On Wednesday, we decided that we had to follow our own advice and take stronger action. After a kick-off rally at noon in front of the FCC, we set up an encampment next to the Maine Ave, SW doors of the FCC. We are taking action each day to push the people’s interest in a free, open and equal Internet. These next few days leading up to the meeting of the FCC Commissioners on the May 15 are a critical time for us to set the agenda and protect the public interest.

Help us surround FCC with people who love the Internet and understand the importance of keeping it open. Before May 15 when the FCC holds its next Open Meeting, citizen pressure needs to continue to build to demand reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier, putting into law net neutrality and removing all obstacles that prevent locally-controlled public Internet. Join us in DC, take action online or organize a protest at an FCC office in your community.

Immediate Impact Of The Encampment

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is already struggling to defend his proposal for new rules that will allow fast lane net discrimination by his corporate allies at Comcast, Verizon and AT&T - but we need to keep building the pressure to get the other FCC commissioners on our side and to return the Internet to its previous status as a public utility. 

Activists are joining our camp in Washington, DC to protest the new net discrimination rules. We will be there until the next public meeting at the FCC to make sure that the proposed rules protect net neutrality, instead of taking the agency off track and ending net neutrality. The encampment adds to the great work done by numerous organizations like Fight for the Future and Free Press online which resulted in more than one million people writing the FCC urging net neutrality and thousands of phone calls demanding withdrawal of Wheeler’s proposal.

This negative response is bigger than anything the FCC expected. But in order for us to be successful, we need activists to come out and be a part of the action in DC or create one at an FCC office close to home.  We are at a crucial turning point and more people getting involved will make a tremendous difference.

From the first moments, we found that the encampment was having an impact.  Before a single protester had even shown up at the FCC’s doorstep, we got a call from Chairman Tom Wheeler’s office asking what we were doing, what our message was, how long we were staying and saying they may be interested in meeting with us. That’s particularly interesting, since even with more than 1 million net neutrality signatures to the FCC last month, Chairman Wheeler wouldn’t meet with us. 

The first afternoon we saw divisions emerging among the Commissioners.  Two Democratic Commissioners came out against moving forward on Wheeler’s proposal. One said the FCC should take at least a month to listen to the public, and the other said she would oppose any fee-based divisions on the Internet.  The Republican commissioners want no regulation – which would be a disaster since it would let the biggest corporations profit and prevent them from being challenged by entrepreneurs. Right now, Wheeler seems to be standing alone for a fee-based division of the Internet

Feeling the pressure, Wheeler responded to thousands of emails sent to him from Popular Resistance with a carefully phrased response that did not answer our demands, but highlighted the differences between industry and the public interest.

On the third day one, of the five FCC Commissioners came out to talk with us. Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai was very friendly; he is quite a joke-ster. This seems to be his way of avoiding discussion. When we noted that it was embarrassing that the country that invented the Internet was now ranked at 30 or lower (depending on the rankings) in quality of the Internet.  Pai’s response “We’re better than Estonia.” Kevin’s response — “Yeah, but not by much!”  

After some friendly back and forth, he asked if it were a choice between the Wheeler’s proposal and doing nothing, which would we choose. Pai essentially presented the choice of two evils -- the Democrat’s rig the market for the wealthiest; and the Republican’s take off all controls so the wealthiest can dominate the market.  The interesting thing about this choice of evils is that they end up in the same place: Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will get wealthier and dominate the market, keeping challengers out; and the people and small businesses will be screwed.  The Internet’s creativity and our full access to information will be ended.

We can't keep letting the corporate duopoly restrict our choices to two lousy ones; we need to break-free of their obvious manipulation. We told Pai that we are not limited to those choices. We want:

 - Reclassification as a common carrier so the Internet could be regulated in the public interest;

- Net neutrality put into law so that there is no Internet discrimination and everyone has equal access to all of the web; and

-  Remove barriers to public Internet at the municipal and local levels so communities can develop public ownership of the Internet in the public interest as many areas are already doing successfully.

Throughout the encampment, FCC employees have been telling participants how much they appreciate us being out there, that they agree with us and that they hope we succeed.  Many inside the FCC want to serve the public interest, not the corporate interests. While lawyers from industry have been hired to work inside the FCC, they seem to be outnumbered by staff of the FCC who are on the side of the people. Participants have been handing out literature during lunch hour urging people in the FCC to blow the whistle and let the public know what is going on inside the agency. To be democracy heroes, people inside the FCC need to let the public know how the mega-corporations and their allies inside the FCC are working to undermine the public interest. 

If you cannot come to DC we urge people to organize similar encampments at other FCC branches in 27 other cities.  People in Los Angeles rallied outside an Obama fundraiser to protest the proposal to end net neutrality. It is important for President Obama — who appointed all five Commissioners of the FCC — and members of the Senate — who confirmed all five Commissioners — to hear from the public and let them know that if net neutrality is ended, so do their careers. 

Now we know for sure that we have the FCC’s attention, since they walk past our encampment every day when they come to work. We’ve heard from our contacts in DC that Tom Wheeler was not expecting this kind of massive backlash to his net neutrality announcement last week. We need to let the FCC know that if they move forward with this proposal they are lighting the fuse to a massive citizen’s revolt that will impact their agency as well as the elected officials who put them in power.

Divisions Building in the Business Community

At the same time that public pressure to withdraw Wheeler’s proposal is building, so is pressure in the business community. Two letters were sent to the FCC this week demonstrating broad opposition to Wheeler’s proposal as well as widespread support for reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier.

The first letter was signed by almost 150 tech companies. It included those from 3 person start-ups to giants like Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook and describes Wheeler’s proposal as “a grave threat to the Internet” as they would allow companies to “discriminate both technically and financially.”  They opposed the end of net neutrality. The letter says FCC rules should not permit “individualized bargaining and discrimination,” and tells the FCC to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce.”

The second letter was sent by 50 tech investors who told Wheeler that his proposal would undermine creativity and investment in the development of the Internet.  The letter says that “If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the internet will no longer be a level playing field . . . startups with applications that are advantaged by speed (such as games, video, or payment systems) will be unlikely to overcome that deficit no matter how innovative their service.”

The group includes investors from around the country, including Union Square Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, First Round Capital, and many more. Collectively they have funded companies like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, and others. You can read their full letter here

The Next Few Days are Critical to the Future of the Internet

We have made tremendous progress since Chairman Wheeler put out his proposal. But, AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have dozens of paid lobbyists pressuring the FCC daily and many lawyers and others working inside the agency.  This is a battle for the future of the Internet that we can win but we have to keep expanding the pressure and fight back against Wheeler’s proposal.

Before May 15 when the FCC holds its next Open Meeting, citizen pressure needs to continue to build to demand reclassifying the Internet as a common carrier, putting into law net neutrality and removing all obstacles that prevent locally controlled public Internet. We must define the agenda in the public interest as we move into the next phase of public comment and voting on the new rules. We will be in a stronger position if we defeat Wheeler’s proposal and replace it with ours.

There will be a rally outside the FCC before the public meeting on May 15, but this struggle doesn’t end that day. Be prepared to continue mobilizing this summer to save the internet. The time is now. The Internet is critical for the democratized citizen’s media, for access to information, for communication with people all over the world and for organizing for justice. Join PopularResistance.org and FightfortheFuture.org to get involved.

If you want to get involved in escalating actions in Washington, DC beginning Wednesday, May 7th contact us at info@PopularResistance.org.

This article is produced by Popular Resistance in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement. Sign up for the daily news digest of Popular Resistance, here.

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