This week a number of major tech companies and liberal activist groups participated in an online “day of action” to protest FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s steps to reverse the Obama administration’s imposition of heavy-handed Title II authority over internet service providers. Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Vimeo were among those edge provider corporations that sought to raise citizen attention to “net neutrality” principles. While they focused on issues of online blocking, throttling, and others that are actually not in dispute by many parties, the specific call to action was to support former Chairman Tom Wheeler’s assertion of new federal power over the internet.
In the midst of the protest, NRB was among those longtime supporters of internet freedom that sought to cut through the rhetoric and support Chairman Pai’s efforts. In a statement, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, recalled that the association opposed the agency’s “power grab.” Agreeing with Pai’s assertion that the internet was not broken two years ago, Johnson applauded the chairman “for his fair and transparent efforts to roll back the agency’s assumption of new heavy-handed Title II powers.”
While the “day of action” was joined by activists like the ACLU, the Action Network, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press, and NARAL, the participation of the tech giants attracted wide attention. Some observers, such as Bret Swanson of the American Enterprise Institute, found this ironic. He said:
First, the largest “gatekeepers” in our data-driven world are not the broadband firms but Silicon Valley’s cloud, web, software, and device firms. Second, despite the vague alarmism over possible future net neutrality violations by broadband firms that never materialize, there is a large and growing list of real non-neutral behavior by Silicon Valley firms. Third, the Title II rules that the Day of Action protestors claim are so important only apply to the parts of the internet that have been most free, open, and neutral. The rules don’t apply to most of the internet ecosystem — the parts where Silicon Valley reigns — and do nothing to protect consumers from their demonstrable, real-world, and non-neutral practices.
Ryan Radia of the Competitive Enterprise Institute highlighted that this week’s protest is significantly different than the January 2012 online effort against legislation that would have broadened federal power:
The SOPA protests thus highlighted the threat of suppression of free speech on the internet by the U.S. government, given the powers and duties it would have conferred on the Department of Justice and federal courts. The Title II Day of Action, by contrast, seeks to defend a regulatory regime that ultimately facilities the suppression of free speech by a federal agency: the FCC.
Of note, at the time of the partisan 2015 FCC vote to assert Title II internet authority, the NRB Board of Directors, a body of approximately a hundred key leaders among Christian communicators, unanimously approved a resolution opposed to such a move. The NRB Board was particularly concerned that free speech values be upheld online and, looking to possible global ramifications, suggested it may encourage “repressive regimes that would like an international body like the International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations to have increased authority over the internet.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: July 14, 2017