Big sites will rally around Net rule

Web protest sees neu­tral­ity at risk

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - TODD SHIELDS

Or­ga­niz­ers of an on­line protest aimed at de­rail­ing a Repub­li­can plan to roll back Net neu­tral­ity rules are hop­ing the magic num­ber is 70,000.

That’s the num­ber of sites and or­ga­ni­za­tions — in­clud­ing Ama­zon. com, Google, Face­book and even Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s fa­vored medium, Twit­ter — that have pledged to par­tic­i­pate.

The big com­mer­cial sites will join scores of on­line ac­tivists and busi­nesses to­day in telling users about the change planned in Washington and ask the vis­i­tors to con­tact Congress and the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion. That’s where Repub­li­can Chair­man Ajit Pai, a Trump ap­pointee, com­mands a ma­jor­ity and is mov­ing to­ward gut­ting the rule against in­ter­fer­ing with Web traf­fic.

The protest comes as Demo­cratic law­mak­ers bring re­newed fo­cus on the is­sue. Demo­cratic U.S. Sens. Ron Wy­den of Ore­gon and Brian Schatz of Hawaii on Mon­day asked the FCC to en­sure its com­puter sys­tem

● is pre­pared to with­stand the ex­pected surge of com­ments. Both sen­a­tors sup­port the em­bat­tled rule.

Al­ready the FCC has re­ceived 5.6 mil­lion com­ments on the is­sue ahead of a Mon­day dead­line for re­marks. In May, tele­vised com­men­tary from co­me­dian John Oliver dur­ing his HBO show sparked a surge of com­ments to the FCC.

Mark Wig­field, an FCC spokesman, de­clined to com­ment on the protest.

Or­ga­niz­ers hope for an out­pour­ing that can change a seem­ingly cer­tain tra­jec­tory to­ward ac­tion by the FCC to roll back the rule that for­bids broad­band providers led by AT&T Inc., Com­cast Corp. and Ver­i­zon Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Inc. from block­ing or slow­ing data — to hin­der ri­vals, for in­stance, or to fa­vor af­fil­i­ated ser­vices.

“We’re try­ing to make it eas­ier for real peo­ple to com­ment and make their voices heard,” said Evan Greer, cam­paign di­rec­tor for Fight for the Fu­ture, a non­profit ad­vo­cacy group that helped or­ga­nize the protest. “Ajit Pai has made it clear he has no in­ter­est in lis­ten­ing to the pub­lic. He’s lis­ten­ing to the ca­ble com­pa­nies and plans to give them what they want.”

Protest or­ga­niz­ers say that if Pai suc­ceeds in weak­en­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the rule, broad­band com­pa­nies will slow Web traf­fic, block ri­vals’ In­ter­net con­tent, cen­sor

un­pop­u­lar view­points and charge ex­tra fees.

Back­ers of Pai’s move say the Net neu­tral­ity rule claims too much au­thor­ity over pri­vate broad­band providers and dis­cour­ages in­vest­ment needed to spread fast In­ter­net ser­vice to more peo­ple, and that a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket will en­sure broad­band providers treat traf­fic fairly.

The protest is “not go­ing to stop the FCC,” said Berin Szoka, founder of TechFree­dom, a pol­icy group that sup­ports Pai’s move.

“Their en­tire agenda is sim­ply to jump up and down at the FCC, and jump up and down on the Hill, and try to ob­struct a leg­isla­tive deal” that could see Congress re­solve the years of de­bate over Net neu­tral­ity, Szoka said.

Among the nearly 70,000 peo­ple, sites, and or­ga­ni­za­tions that have signed on to the ef­fort are on­line mu­sic ser­vice Spo­tify, crafts web­site Etsy, and IAC/In­terAc­tiveCorp’s video-shar­ing site Vimeo, ac­cord­ing to Greer. Spokes­men for Face­book, Net­flix and Al­pha­bet Inc.’s Google con­firmed par­tic­i­pa­tion and de­clined to of­fer de­tails. Ama­zon.com Inc. is tak­ing part, ac­cord­ing to protest or­ga­niz­ers.

Web­sites tak­ing part will dis­play prom­i­nent mes­sages on their home pages on Wed­nes­day and en­cour­age users to take ac­tion. Sam­ple mes­sages dis­trib­uted by or­ga­niz­ers in­cluded warn­ings that “we’re stuck in the slow lane” and “this site has been blocked.”

An on­line protest in 2012 was cred­ited with help­ing per­suade Congress to aban­don leg­is­la­tion backed by movie stu­dios to com­bat on­line piracy.

But law­mak­ers aren’t run­ning the Net neu­tral­ity pro­ceed­ing as Pai heads to­ward a vote pos­si­bly later this year at the FCC. Pai’s an­tipa­thy to the neu­tral­ity rule passed in 2015 was well-known when Trump el­e­vated him to chair­man in Jan­uary. And in 2014 while the FCC pre­pared the rule, Trump in a tweet called the reg­u­la­tion “Obama’s at­tack on the in­ter­net.”

Still, Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are ag­i­tat­ing against the change. “The FCC wants to get rid of the rules that pro­tect # net neu­tral­ity. That’s a threat to de­stroy the in­ter­net as we know it,” Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said in a tweet. Ver­mont Sen. Pa­trick Leahy also tweeted, say­ing, “End­ing # net neu­tral­ity would al­low in­ter­net providers to slow cer­tain web­sites or charge more for pref­er­en­tial ser­vice.”

Oth­ers are or­ga­niz­ing to sup­port the FCC. Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity, Amer­i­cana for Tax Re­form, the Cen­ter for In­di­vid­ual Free­dom, and the Na­tional Tax­pay­ers Union are among pol­icy groups spon­sor­ing a web­site that pushes for cur­tail­ing the rule. The site “is a re­source for those who sup­port a free and open in­ter­net, not one strapped with need­less reg­u­la­tions from gov­ern­ment,” ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease about the ef­fort.

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