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Jan Lee headshot

Major Tech Companies, NGOs Stand Up for Net Neutrality

By Jan Lee

If you want to get an idea of just how passionate businesses and consumers are about net neutrality issues, you'll want to be online July 12.

Some of the world's largest companies and broadly backed NGOs are joining together to send a message to Federal Communications Commission Chairman and former Verizon attorney Ajit Pai: Net neutrality matters, not just to the convenience of home-computer users, but to the resilience of U.S. businesses and organizations. These organizations will be speaking out about the importance of net neutrality and staging actions that remind internet users just how much they rely on net neutrality.

Amazon, Kickstarter, Netflix, YCombinator, Vimeo and Etsy are a few of the companies that have signed on to the initiative recently, and the list is continuing to grow. Supporting organizations include the American Sustainable Business Council, American Library Association, Writers Guild of America West and Center for Media Justice, but also include a broad spectrum of social and humanitarian driven initiatives like Moveon.org and Rockthevote.

Individuals who sign up on the Battlefortheinternet.com site, which is operated by the nonprofit Fight for the Future, will have access to online tools to send their message to Pai, other members of the FCC and Congress.

In April, Pai said he would take steps to loosen controls on large broadband providers, effectively repealing protections that the Obama administration backed. Under the current structure, internet companies are regulated the same way as telephone companies, with limits on how they can charge customers, how they can provide services and what they can do with privacy information.

In May, FCC conducted a vote on whether to loosen controls and no surprisingly, the 2-1 result shaped out according to party lines, with the lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, voting to keep the rules as they were.  The result alarmed internet neutrality supporters, who vowed to mobilize further consumer protests.

Unequal access for low-income, say net neutrality advocates

Nevertheless, the FCC has already begun to roll back some of those regulations, making it easier for companies to sell private information for profit. But this latest proposal by Pai would remove the strictures that critics say keep the internet industry fair and accessible for all -- including smaller players. But it could also make it easier for companies to throttle consumers usage, forcing them to pay more to get more access. And that has many social advocacy organizations alarmed.

According to research released in January by the Pew Research Center, 9 in 10 U.S. residents use the internet. Since 2001, the percentage of low-income families (under $30,000) that use the internet has grown from 2 percent to 53 percent (that data is from November of 2016, the statistic is likely higher now).

Pew also tracked the increase in cell phone use and found that while the use of internet has increased on smartphones, the number of individuals in the U.S. who rely on smartphones exclusively for their internet access is still very small, about 1 in 10 consumers in total.

To internet neutrality advocates, those numbers speak volumes.

"Communities of color across the United States depend on an open Internet to thrive," said Malkia Cyril, executive director of Center for Media Justice. [T]he political voice and economic opportunity that the Internet enables must remain protected by Title II net neutrality."

Michael Cheah, general council for Vimeo, credits the open internet with Vimeo's increased growth and popularity.

"The FCC’s proposed rollback of the 2015 open Internet rules threatens to impede that innovation and allow a handful of incumbent ISPs to determine winners and losers. On July 12th, Vimeo will proudly join our fellow tech brethren to rally Internet users nationwide to demand strong net neutrality rules to prevent ISPs from manipulating Internet traffic," said Cheah.

Internet fraud?

Fight for the Future is also calling on Pai to remove and investigate 450,000 "fraudulent" comments on its website that the NGO says are fake.

The topic of public comments and the requirements that the FCC sets in order for consumers to leave those comments has become a hot-button topic these days, with some organizations accusing the FCC of making it hard for users to understand that when they log in and comment they are providing personal information that others could see -- including the user's email address, which becomes available when someone logs in to the government's API site.

The problem is, points out Jon Brodkin, an Arstechnica writer, the information isn't limited to just government agencies. Anyone, including public organizations and companies can access that information.

In this case, that may be a good thing, since it's increased transparency about who is leaving comments. Unfortunately, according to Fight for the Future, hundreds of thousands of those comments were forgeries using names that, as one individual put it, were "diametrically opposed" to their support of net neutrality.

"Whoever is behind this stole our names and addresses, exposed our private information in a public docket without our permission," Fight for the Future told Pai in a letter. It said there were at least two reports in which deceased individuals' names were used to support anti-net neutrality views.

It isn't clear whether the FCC will strike the comments, but either way, net neutrality supporters' views will likely be heard loud and clear on July 12 when a growing number companies chime in to let the Trump administration know that the country's largest businesses support keeping the rules that the Obama administration put in place.


Flickr image: Chris Scholz; Mike Licht

Jan Lee headshot

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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