Net Neutrality Emergency
The battle for the open Internet isn’t over. In the days leading up to the FCC’s net neutrality vote, we investigate what’s next in the fight. We Rate Dogs’ Matt Nelson talks about trolling Ajit Pai with a pay-per-pupper plan. Verizon protesters share their experience on the ground. And the FCC’s Mignon Clyburn weighs in on net neutrality’s road ahead. Show Notes
Veronica Belmont: Hey, everyone. It’s Veronica. If you support net neutrality like I do and like Mozilla does, this is one of those big deal weeks we all need to pay attention to. On Thursday the United States Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, is expected to take a vote. They’ll vote on a proposal to undo the net neutrality protections put in place two years ago. It’s all but certain that it will pass. Supporters of the open internet are angry and they’re angry at one man in particular, Ajit Pai. He’s the chair of the FCC and he’s the guy leading the charge to dismantle these rules. This anger, this frustration can be found in nearly every corner of the web. You’ll even find it in some of the most harmless and frankly, delightful places like Matt Nelson’s Twitter based business, WeRateDogs. It’s pretty much what it sounds like.
Matt Nelson: So, people send in photos and videos of their dogs and I basically go through and pick a couple each day to caption and give a rating out of 10. They usually all get above 10 because dogs are …
Veronica Belmont: Amazing.
Matt Nelson: Better than perfect.
Veronica Belmont: And as part of this you have another Twitter account called DogFeelings, so what exactly is DogFeelings all about?
Matt Nelson: I literally talk as if I were a dog and as silly as that sounds, it’s now become just as big of a hit as WeRateDogs.
Veronica Belmont: And so now, how did you discover that FCC chair Ajit Pai is a fan?
Matt Nelson: So, it was Thanksgiving and it wasn’t until after Thanksgiving dinner that a few people just in the mentions were like, “Hey, the FCC chairman just retweeted you.” It kind of just set the bells off. Like, “Oh, he likes the account. He follows it. Let’s have some fun with this.”
Veronica Belmont: Can you actually read the message that you sent him?
Matt Nelson: I said, “Hi, I noticed you follow this account. I hope you’re enjoying it so far. Just wanted to inform you that starting with the repeal of net neutrality we will block you and this account will be private. However, we have several content options available for purchase listed below. The first one is the Pupper Package at $10 a month. This gives you access to only the super-relatable dog thoughts that require very little creative effort on my part, and then the Pup-O Package is $25 a month and that has access to the Tweets that carry the storyline, introduction to new characters, and then the Dog-O Package at $50 a month, access to all Tweets, the full stories available and all characters unlocked,” and then I said, “Oh, no. I actually just received word that none of these packages are available in your area. We will notify you if there are any pupdates.” So…
Veronica Belmont: I would give that a 13 out of 10: “would read those Tweets again”.
Matt Nelson: Thank you.
Veronica Belmont: As someone who makes a living running an online business, what worries you most if net neutrality is repealed?
Matt Nelson: Yeah, I think that it is crazy that I decided to make this account in an Applebee’s and I’m sitting here talking to you today. That is a process that can’t happen without a free and open internet. My whole story doesn’t exist without a free and open internet. I feel like there’s an opportunity to remind everyone that this is an issue that’s currently unfolding. If net neutrality is repealed that they will notice changes, maybe not immediately, but it’s … I hate using the term “slippery slope,” but it’s one that applies pretty well in this case.
Veronica Belmont: I like Matt’s approach, giving the FCC chair a bit of his own bark, but it’s not just the cute dogs of the internet that are standing up for net neutrality, and that’s what today’s special bonus episode, you could even call it an emergency episode is all about. A fight to save the open internet doesn’t end this week, it’s just getting started. I’m Veronica Belmont and this is IRL, because online life is real life. An original podcast from Mozilla.
Protesters: Fight back, the internet’s under attack!
Veronica Belmont: So right now we’re outside the Verizon store. There are a lot of people here.
Protester 1: I am currently holding a sign that says, “This LAN,” such as a local area network, “was made for you and me. #NetNeutrality.”
Protester 2: My sign says, “Net neutrality is freedom of speech.”
Protester 3: Hide, hide, you can’t hide. We see your Verizon side.
Veronica B.: This is a protest held in New York City last week.
Protesters: Hide hide, you can’t hide. We see your Verizon side.
Veronica Belmont: Anti-Verizon demonstrations were staged near Verizon stores across the country.
Protester 3: We see your Verizon side.
Protester 4: We’re protesting in front of Verizon because Verizon is one of the ISPs that stands to benefit from a loss of net neutrality.
Protester 5: And Ajit Pai was a former lawyer for Verizon and he’s still beholden to their interests.
Protester 6: I’m not a super huge fan of Ajit Pai. I’d call him something else but I don’t know what the rating of this podcast is, so I’ll leave it to your imaginations.
Protesters: Stop the FCC. We want net neutrality.
Protester 7: Net neutrality means that nobody can buy the space that others could otherwise occupy.
Protester 8: I was born in Ecuador and didn’t have net neutrality, and you know what happens there? People have to pay to Tweet when they’re not in their houses or not in Wi-Fi place. You know how stupid that is?
Protester 9: I mean, it’s pretty simple to me. It’s just corporations who have a big foothold in Congress, trying to get more money and limit people’s ability to oppose them and oppose other things.
Protesters: What do we want? Net neutrality! When do we want it? Forever! What do we want? Net neutrality!
Protester 10: They say nothing’s gonna be different but I say if nothing’s gonna be different then why don’t you just leave it alone instead of repealing it?
Protester 11: You know I just want people to have their voices be heard, have someone in Capitol Hill, somebody in the big office being like, “Hey, there’s a lot of people here. We should probably listen to them.”
Protester 12: After this I don’t see an option. It feels like we’re slowly being crushed.
Protesters: What do we want? Net neutrality! When do we want it now? Forever! What do we want? Net neutrality!
Veronica Belmont: What is Ajit Pai’s rationale for these sweeping changes? On November 28th, Pai delivered a speech outlining his reasoning to the R Street Institute. R Street is a free market think tank. We pulled audio from their Facebook page. Have a listen to some of what he argues.
Ajit Pai: We had a free and open internet for two decades before 2015 and we will have a free and open internet going forward. So if the plan is on docket December 14th, we will simple reverse the FCC 2015 decision and go back to the pre-2015 framework. We aren’t giving anybody a free pass. We are simple shifting from one size fits all preemptive regulation to targeted enforcement that focuses enforcement action on actual market failure or anything [inaudible] conduct. So when you get past all the vile accusations, the fear mongering, the hysteria, here’s the frankly boring bottom line, the plan to restore Internet freedom would return to the light touch market based approach under which the internet thrived.
Veronica Belmont: Pai has never wavered in his belief that too much regulation stifles internet freedom. He seems to have refused to consider alternative perspectives as he built his proposal. If you want to hear Pai’s whole speech, find links to the video and the transcript on our website, irlpodcast.org. Plenty of people disagree completely with Pai’s argument. Among them members of Pai’s own commission.
Mignon Clyburn: I would vote against what the Republican majority has put forth. They have stated that they don’t care about what the American public has said.
Veronica Belmont: Mignon Clyburn is a commissioner at the FCC. President Obama nominated her to the post in 2009.
Mignon Clyburn: Millions of people have weighed in and they have stated loud and clear the majority of those legitimate comments that have come through the FCC, the calls that we’ve gotten, the emails that I’ve gotten, they have been supportive of these net neutrality principles that we put in place in 2015. They’re ignoring the will of the people. They’re listening to large, established internet service providers, of those well heeled economically and politically connected companies.
Veronica Belmont: I have to say it feels validating that you sound so frustrated as much as we’ve been frustrated about this.
Mignon Clyburn: My goodness. If we hand the keys over to these large corporations we will have gatekeepers, we will be blocked, slowed down, throttled. Our experiences online will be forever changed for the negative.
Veronica Belmont: Why do you think FCC chair Ajit Pai and the Republican commissioners are so committed to eliminating net neutrality?
Mignon Clyburn: I cannot begin to answer you as to why we’re moving in this direction, which seems so counter to the American experience. It seems so counter to this nation’s founding. It seems so counter to innovation and opportunities in this country. December 14th will be a sad day for all of us who care about the openness and the capacity and the ability for us to be able to access and thrive over this platform.
Veronica Belmont: Mignon Clyburn is one of two Democratic commissioners on the FCC. There are three Republican commissioners, including Ajit Pai. The vote is expected to play out along party lines and we know this because the commissioners supporting repeal have made it clear from the beginning that this is what they will do. So, that’s where things stand. What happens next? Beyond protesting, some are preparing for the next round in this fight. Jessica Gonzalez is with a group called Free Press. She was a guest on our show in our first season and I wanted to know how she feels about all of this.
Jessica Gonzalez: Free Press, if it goes the way we think it’s gonna go, we’ll sue the FCC. We think we have a really strong case in the courts, and I feel really confident that that is one of the many strategies that can lead us to victory to ultimately guide the path to ensure real, strong net neutrality rules in the future.
Veronica Belmont: Well, it’s crazy though because I mean, we have all this steam, people have been emailing, they’ve been writing, they’ve been calling, and yet Ajit Pai is like, “Oh, we’re not taking these comments into consideration.” So how do people keep up that steam, that intensity when we feel … They’re straight up telling us they’re not even listening.
Jessica Gonzalez: You have to look at Congress. The agency needs the political support of Congress and if we start to show our elected officials that this is the type of issue that their elections will depend on then we can really flip how this issue is treated in DC, and I do believe that when the people are engaged and holding their elected officials accountable that in the long run we will save net neutrality and that this vote on the 14th, it’s not the end.
Veronica Belmont: If you’d like to hear my original interview with Jessica and get a primer on what net neutrality is all about, subscribe to IRL and look up the second episode or find it on our website. So, Free Press is planning to sue, and they won’t be the only ones. Dell Cameron is a journalist with Gizmodo. He has a good sense of how this could play out.
Dell Cameron: Well, the truth is that there’s going to be a lengthy legal process that unfolds in the next, probably the next year and a half at least. I think it’s very likely that we’re gonna see some of the larger tech companies get into this, some sort of trade association representing Google and Twitter and other tech giants join in to sue as well.
Veronica Belmont: So, beyond arguing that the FCC is wrong, what kind of legal argument would you need to make to convince the court to overturn this decision?
Dell Cameron: I think the Netflix argument is going to come up probably, Netflix having been throttled in the past.
Veronica Belmont: Yeah, FYI, this summer Verizon admitted to capping video streaming and was accused of intentionally slowing down Netflix feeds.
Dell Cameron: I imagine that there will be groups of smaller companies that will get together and say that like look … Verizon is going to … For example, is going to enter into some agreement with our larger competitors to ensure that they have the best streaming service or that their website functions at a level you know at which we can’t compete and I think … So, I think that will be one of the primary arguments is that this is going to kill innovation.
Veronica Belmont: How do you expect ISPs will operate while this is before the courts? Do they have to be careful about every business decision that they make until the courts actually reach a decision?
Dell Cameron: Yeah, I believe that they will need to be a little bit careful. It’s possible that someone will try to get an injunction or what the Court of Appeals calls a stay, meaning that the court will order that the FCC’s new rules can’t be put into place. So net neutrality will survive for the - while the case is being heard before the court.
Veronica Belmont: Do you think that this could be an actual election issue in 2020?
Dell Cameron: I think it’s going to be an election issue. I think Republicans specifically care about this. They’re adamantly against revoking these rules and I think that the Republican party is kind of overlooking that. This is part of a broader effort to deregulate the government and to hand an immense amount of power over to American companies and they’re just kind of sliding this one through. It’s been done very quickly and I think that Republican voters care about this and they’re gonna be pretty pissed off.
Veronica Belmont: It’s true. This issue cuts across political lines. An IPSOS poll found 73% of Republicans and 81% of Democrats want net neutrality to stay. Dell Cameron is with Gizmodo. You want to do something about this? There’s still time. You could join the campers who will be occupying the FCC. They’ll be surrounding the Washington DC headquarters with concerned citizens instead of corporate lobbyists. Call your senator, call your member of Congress. Done so already? Do it again. Find out more info in the show notes to this episode, irlpodcast.org. One thing we left out of this episode is just how much of a mess the FCC website used for public comments about this has been, and people wrote in, millions of us, overwhelmingly in support of net neutrality, but also bots. Lots and lots of bots. In fact, the commenting process became a scandal of its own with bot swarms polluting the process and making a mockery of public feedback. IRL’s second season officially launches on January 8th, and we’ll start by diving deep into the world of bots and how they may or may not be influencing politics and civic engagement. Subscribe now so you don’t miss a thing. IRL is an original podcast from Mozilla, the nonprofit behind the all new Firefox browser. I’m Veronica Belmont wishing you happy holidays and visions of net neutral sugar plums dancing in your heads.
Protester 4: I believe that …
Protesters: I believe that …
Protester 4: I believe that we …
Protesters: I believe that we …
Protester 4: I believe that we will win
Protesters: … I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win.