Saturday, February 28, 2015

Net Neutrality Is Here — Thanks To an Unprecedented Guerrilla Activism Campaign

Activists troll Comcast with Net Neutrality message from The Intercept on Vimeo.

[On Thursday] the Federal Communications Commission voted to guarantee the open Internet through so-called net neutrality rules, and with it, forged ahead with one of the biggest policy accomplishments of the Obama administration.

“This is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC,” says Tim Karr, campaign director for Free Press.

Net neutrality, a principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally, was a founding concept for the web. But many Internet service providers have attempted to change that. Cell phone companies have attempted to block apps that could compete with their services and cable companies have pressed for paid prioritization, seeking extra income by forcing users to pay for faster connections to select websites.

For Internet start-ups and political activists alike, the efforts by the ISP industry to move away from net neutrality represented a transformation of the Internet, from a place in which all voices were equal to a world of big incumbent websites and corporate media-dominated information sources. “The question came down to, who ultimately controls this Internet? Is it going to be these powerful corporations?” says Karr.

And only a year ago, prospects for protecting net neutrality seemed doomed. The Internet service provider industry, including companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against the rule, spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called “astroturf” efforts to pay third party groups to support their position. In January of 2014, a federal court struck down a previous iteration of the open Internet rules after Verizon filed suit. And shortly thereafter, the newly installed FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable and cell phone lobbyist, began moving forward with a plan that would allow broadband providers to create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.

Now, with the FCC voting to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II of the Communications Act, net neutrality rules are stronger than ever. The credit for such a seachange, say activists who agitated for the decision, belongs to a mix of online and traditional activism.

[Update: On Friday, three activist groups that strongly backed net neutrality — Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, and Free Press — ...flew a victory lap, literally, around Comcast’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia (see video above). A banner towed by an airplane mocked the corporate ISP giant with a picture of internet-famous feline “Grumpy Cat” and a message “Don’t Mess With The Internet. #SorryNotSorry.”]

The victory comes after a scrappy, underdog campaign. Pro-net neutrality protesters made headlines by storming hearings, confronting Wheeler at public events, and carrying out a string of stunts designed to raise public awareness.


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