NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Sound the alarm: Net neutrality is under attack at the FCC, and it’s up to us to save it

The sec­ond of three Seat­tle-area town halls orga­nized by U.S. Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell’s office took place this morn­ing. Focused on net neu­tral­i­ty, it fea­tured a pan­el dis­cus­sion host­ed by Cantwell, who was joined by the FCC’s Mignon Clyburn and Michael Schut­zler, CEO of the Wash­ing­ton Tech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion. The trio took ques­tions relat­ed to the pro­posed roll­back of Title 2 reg­u­la­tions.

Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn, who was appoint­ed to the FCC by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, brought a lot to the dis­cus­sion, pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tive and poignant answers to dif­fi­cult ques­tions. Con­stituents offered ques­tions rang­ing from the abil­i­ty of local gov­ern­ments to be able to reg­u­late band­width in their regions, to the pos­si­ble pri­va­cy impli­ca­tions of FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai’s anti-inter­net pro­pos­als.

Both the Sen­a­tor and Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn start­ed off the event by stress­ing the impor­tance of inform­ing the pub­lic about pro­tect­ing net neu­tral­i­ty.

Maria Cantwell's town hall on net neutrality

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell, Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion­er Mignon Clyburn, and Michael Schut­zler, CEO of the Wash­ing­ton Tech­nol­o­gy Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion at Town Hall (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“We are build­ing an inter­net econ­o­my,” stat­ed Sen­a­tor Cantwell, who deemed the pos­si­ble roll­back of FCC reg­u­la­tions this August a grave threat to our “free and open inter­net.” Both the Com­mis­sion­er and the Sen­a­tor agreed that the inter­net is a essen­tial ser­vice that all Amer­i­cans should have access to.

In her open­ing remarks, Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn sug­gest­ed that this was an “oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to turn back the clock,” sug­gest­ing that with a large enough pub­lic out­cry, the FCC might aban­don Pai’s harm­ful tra­jec­to­ry and instead move one step clos­er to a com­plete­ly free and open inter­net.

Cantwell reit­er­at­ed her belief that “the inter­net is a pub­lic util­i­ty” dur­ing the Q&A, a view that appeared to be wide­ly shared among audi­ence mem­bers.

When asked about whether it was the government’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to build infra­struc­ture to enable free and open access to the inter­net, both Sen­a­tor Cantwell and Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn expressed strong inter­est in build­ing on the fed­er­al gov­ern­men­t’s past work to fos­ter the deploy­ment of broad­band.

Through­out the event, Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn stressed the impor­tance of pro­vid­ing sto­ries to the FCC with­in the pub­lic com­ment peri­od. She asked con­stituents to ask them­selves if the inter­net had made their lives bet­ter.

Nat­u­ral­ly, audi­ence mem­bers respond­ed that it had.

Clyburn not­ed that sto­ries have pow­er, and that the FCC real­ly need­ed to hear from small busi­ness­es that would be impact­ed by the repeal of net neu­tral­i­ty.

Cantwell described the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion at the FCC as a “reg­u­la­to­ry freeze”. Giant cable and tele­com com­pa­nies like Ver­i­zon and Com­cast have been lob­by­ing the FCC, demand­ing the roll­back of rules they don’t like. Pai has been car­ry­ing their water.

If Com­mis­sion­er Pai’s cur­rent plan were to pass, it would spur mas­sive changes to our inter­net-dri­ven econ­o­my and fur­ther infringe on dig­i­tal pri­va­cy rights, con­tribut­ing to a grand state of uncer­tain­ty, as Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn put it.

Per­haps the best moment of the town hall was when a young man asked the pan­el if inter­net should be a place that embraces the First Amend­ment. Cantwell’s reply con­sist­ed of just one word: Yes. The short, blunt answer was well received by the assem­bled crowd. Com­mis­sion­er Clyburn weighed in too, adding: “Net Neu­tral­i­ty is the First Amend­ment of the inter­net,” liken­ing the con­cept of a free and open inter­net to our founders’ vision of a free demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­ety.

Both the Sen­a­tor and Com­mis­sion­er urged the audi­ence to leave com­ments in oppo­si­tion to Pai’s plan through the FCC’s web­site, and urge fel­low activists to fol­low suit, so that the FCC receives a large, grass­roots-dri­ven groundswell in sup­port of keep­ing broad­band reg­u­lat­ed as pub­lic util­i­ty under Title II.

It is vital we all speak to the con­se­quences of the FCC’s pro­posed roll­back. But the voic­es of cyber entre­pre­neurs are espe­cial­ly need­ed because they could car­ry more weight with the Repub­li­can mem­bers of the FCC, Pai includ­ed.

“Busi­ness sto­ries,” Clyburn said, “are what we should focus on.”

The pan­el reflect­ed on the impact that Dai­ly Show alum John Oliv­er had on the FCC’s pro­ceed­ings back in 2014, when he urged view­ers of his pro­gram Last Week Tonight to con­tact the FCC in sup­port of net neu­tral­i­ty. Over five mil­lion com­ments were ulti­mate­ly sent, and those sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced the FCC’s rule­mak­ing, help­ing pave the way for broad­band to be reg­u­lat­ed as a pub­lic util­i­ty.

(A few weeks ago, Oliv­er’s HBO show ran a fol­low-up seg­ment.)

That was a sig­nif­i­cant vic­to­ry, but those gains could be reversed if we don’t speak out now in defense of net neu­tral­i­ty. A mas­sive, wide-rang­ing day of action in sup­port of a free inter­net is planned for next Wednes­day, July 12th, and NPI will be tak­ing part, along with count­less oth­er orga­ni­za­tions.

Cantwell will hold one more town hall tomor­row (Sat­ur­day, July 8th). It is a gen­er­al town hall open to a wide-rang­ing dis­cus­sion of all issues. The event is open to the pub­lic, but requires tick­ets. Vis­it the Senator’s web­site for more infor­ma­tion.

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