Last week two senators sent a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey expressing concern with reports of the social media giant blocking tweets and retweets of AT&T’s public policy blog during the recent net neutrality “Day of Action.” Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) did not mince words in their rebuke, declaring, “The inimical blocking of lawful content that may be at odds with one’s own point of view is an affront to free expression and violates the fundamental concept of net neutrality.”
Last month, a number of major tech companies and liberal activist groups participated in an online protest against the proposed reversal of the Obama administration’s imposition of heavy-handed Title II authority over internet service providers. Twitter joined Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other edge provider corporations in efforts to raise citizen attention to “net neutrality” principles. They focused on blocking, throttling, and other issues that are actually not disputed by many parties. In fact, the AT&T policy blog that Twitter reportedly censored was making just that case. In reality, the specific call to action of the online protest was to rally support for former Chairman Tom Wheeler’s assertion of new federal power over the internet.
Senators Johnson and Blunt acknowledged Twitter’s claim that this incident was a “glitch” that had been remedied; however, they did not sound convinced. “It is not difficult to imagine the outrage that would have occurred had an internet service provider (ISP) experienced a ‘glitch’ that blocked Twitter or any of the other content providers that participated in the ‘Day of Action,’” they wrote. Glitch or not, the senators noted that the situation illustrates that the current Title II rules affect one sector but “leave other parts of the internet ecosystem uncovered, even though they serve just as much as gatekeepers of information.”
Notably, in a recent FCC filing, Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, emphasized caution about new regulatory regimes and highlighted the value of free enterprise. However, he also reminded the agency of NRB’s suggestion from a 2014 comment: “Any regulation of broadband providers requires a broad picture that includes an evaluation of the policies and practices of edge providers in order to protect the free speech interests of citizen users.” Johnson indicated that incidents of censorship of religious and ideologically conservative viewpoints by some major edge providers remain a problem.
For their part, Sens. Johnson and Blunt encouraged Twitter and other online giants to partner with them to truly codify open internet principles. They said, “You do not need a day of action to get Republicans to the negotiating table. We sit ready and waiting for a real, factually informed discussion.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: August 4, 2017