November 29 is the final National Day of Action in the fight to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules. To mark the day, we've put together everything you need to know about the issue.
What Is Net Neutrality?
As of right now, internet users across the United States can all visit the same websites and use the same digital services at the same speed (as long as the proper physical infrastructure is in place). Internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon can't make you pay more for access to certain websites and can't throttle your internet speed as they see fit. This is Obama-era net neutrality: these gatekeepers must be neutral parties, allowing users to fairly access the whole of the (legal) internet.
What's With The National Day Of Action?
The Trump administration opposes the Obama-era rules, and wants to end government oversight of internet service providers. As USA Today reports, the FCC, which sets policy for service providers, repealed rules against throttling and blocking content at the end of 2017.
Critics of the new rules, including some large companies like Netflix, protested the change, and put pressure on lawmakers to vote to protect the Obama-era rules. These campaigns made up the first Days of Action, and were somewhat successful; a bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate struck down the Trump administration rules in May, Ars Techinca reports.
The bill then went over to the House, where it went nowhere. In fact, it hasn't even been brought to the floor. Which brings us to the present.
The Senate's pro-net neutrality bill needs to pass the House by December 10 to stay alive. Activists decided to try to rally Americans and their representatives ahead of that deadline by spreading the word about the upcoming vote on November 29.
In an open letter posted to Deadline For Net Neutrality, activists wrote, "the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality is one of the most undemocratic in recent history."
The letter also calls net neutrality "the basic underlying principle that has allowed the Internet to thrive since its inception" and argues "without it, monopolistic Internet providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T — some of the least popular companies in the United States — will become the dictators of our online experience."
Those behind the letter hope people will sign a petition on the site, and that bringing those signatures to the House will force representatives to take action.
Do The Activists Have A Chance Of Success?
Currently, pro-net neutrality representatives are circulating a discharge petition in order to force a vote on the Senate's bill. If these representatives can get 218 of their colleagues to sign the petition, the bill must come to the floor for a vote.
As Wired reports, currently 177 representatives have signed. A new New York Democrat who won a special election promised to sign as soon as he's sworn in, which will bring the total to 178. There are 18 Democrats in the House who haven't joined in on the petition as of yet; if all of them jumped on the bandwagon, net neutrality proponents would still need 22 Republicans to break ranks with the president and sign on as well.
As Senate Republicans chose to help get the current neutrality defense bill out of their chamber, it isn't impossible some GOP representatives might do the same. Even if the bill clears the House, however, President Trump has said he'd veto it once it reaches his desk, meaning it wouldn't become law. Some sort of compromise could be worked out with the president, but this isn't likely.
What Can We Do To Save Neutrality?
A few things:
1. If you are concerned about neutrality and want to bring Obama-era guidelines back, you can sign Deadline For Net Neutrality's petition.
2. You can also lobby your representative to sign the discharge petition. Medium has a list of Democrats who have yet to sign. Mike Coffman (R-CO) is the only House Republican to have signed, according to Fight for the Future.
3. Another option is organizing at the local level. Several states have passed net neutrality provisions affecting their own borders, as the National Conference of State Legislatures notes. If you live in California, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Montana, Hawaii or Washington, your local government has your back. If you don't, contact your state and city officials to push for state-level internet protections.
Even if you live in one of the above states, you aren't in the clear. The FCC has said states have no legal right to weigh in on net neutrality, arguing that it's a federal issue. Because of this, lawsuits are keeping the laws from being enforced, and your state could use support. You can help out by making sure you support candidates for attorney general that will continue to battle the federal government on the issue.
4. You could also run for office. The next class of representatives has said they plan on making net neutrality a priority. As Democrats will hold the majority in the House, this new class could get something done. However, the Senate will be more Republican by the time the new session of Congress starts, meaning any legislation leaving the House could stall in the Senate. If you have a senator or representative that opposes net neutrality, you could run against them, or could volunteer in the campaign of a pro-net neutrality candidate.
How Does All Of This Affect People Of Color?
Mignon Cylburn, the first black female FCC commissioner, voted against the repeal of net neutrality earlier this year and issued a scathing dissent. In her letter, she highlighted the impact the repeal could have on communities of color.
"Particularly damning is what today’s repeal will mean for marginalized groups, like communities of color, that rely on platforms like the internet to communicate, because traditional outlets do not consider their issues or concerns, worthy of any coverage," she wrote.
"It was through social media that the world first heard about Ferguson, Missouri, because legacy news outlets did not consider it important until the hashtag started trending. It has been through online video services, that targeted entertainment has thrived, where stories are finally being told because those same programming were repeatedly rejected by mainstream distribution and media outlets. And it has been through secure messaging platforms, where activists have communicated and organized for justice without gatekeepers with differing opinions blocking them."
Today, most of us are active on social media. Some of the things we share aren't universally beloved, and could be blocked by service providers. For example, those #TakeAKnee videos you saw on your feeds? If an internet service provider felt those kneeling were unpatriotic and didn't want you seeing them protesting, they could block you from seeing them with a few lines of code. Similarly, videos of police brutality or Black Lives Matter content could be censored.
Every sector could be affected. If Blavity always loaded super, super slowly for you because your internet service provider was throttling it, would you wait for the page to load to get our content? What if the same thing happened to Black Twitter? If you had to pay extra to stream the work of Black artists, would you?
Should the House fail to act, and the new rules take effect, we could all find out the answers to those questions.
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