File this under: The worst FCC decision you’ve never heard of…
Late last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave cell phone companies new powers to control our text messages. Carriers like Verizon can now legally block or delay messages from users they don’t like or want to charge more money.
This all started back in December when FCC Chairman Ajit Pai moved to classify SMS text messages as a “Title I” information service under the Communications Act, which would allow cell phone companies to block or delay messages. At the time Pai justified the move by saying it would help prevent robotexts and spam messages — but, as members of Congress pointed out in a letter to the FCC, telephone carriers are already able to stop unwanted messages without this classification.
Right now the FCC is accepting public input on whether or not they should reverse their decision and restore protections against text message blocking — but the deadline for comments is Tuesday, April 2nd. Unless Congress steps in with legislation to overturn the FCC, flooding the FCC with comments is our best shot at convincing the agency to overturn their terrible decision.
The risks here aren’t just hypothetical. In January, Verizon nearly shut down a free texting app used by schools and community groups after threatening the app with new fees nearly 11 times higher than what they were already paying. And in 2007, action alert texts from NARAL were blocked because Verizon deemed their messages “controversial.”
This is why the experts at Public Knowledge have long called for SMS text messages to be classified as a “Title II” telecommunications services so they can enjoy net neutrality-like protections against blocking by cell phone carriers. This would make it so that when you send a text message, you don’t have to worry about whether your phone company will block it from being delivered. Seems simple, right?
Giving telecom providers these powers is a gross violation of our rights. Just imagine how this could be used to silence or shakedown anybody who relies on text messages to communicate. Cell phone users should not have their messages blocked because a telecom company disagrees with their point of view or wants to make more money off of them.
If enough people weigh in, there’s a chance we can convince the agency to reverse its course. If not, we can use our numbers to show Congress–who is ultimately responsible for the FCC–that their constituents need them to step in and set this right.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 26, 2019 Contact: Evan Greer, 978-852-6457, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hundreds of thousands tune in to livestream of obscure committee markup for Save the Internet Act
More than 300,000 people watched the livestream of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology’s markup and vote on the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644) today, flooding lawmakers with phone calls, tweets, and emails in support of the bill that restores net neutrality.
The eruption of grassroots support had an impact, and the bill passed the subcommittee vote without issue, despite attemptsby telecom-backed lawmakers to gut the legislation with amendments that would have added major loopholes for ISP abuses. In the end, only one amendment was introduced, and it was withdrawn after pushback from the majority, emboldened by the swell in activism.
Digital rights group Fight for the Future helped garner massive online attention on what would have otherwise been a relatively obscure procedural vote. The group, which has led many of the largest online protests in history, built a simple widget that allowed any website to display the livestream and a link to take action on their homepage. Major web platforms like Etsy, Tumblr, Twitter, Github, Private Internet Access, Pornhub, BoingBoing and dozens of grassroots organizations helped sound the alarm.
At one point nearly 40,000 people were simultaneously watching Fight for the Future’s mirror of the House.gov livestream, which crashed several times because so many Internet users were tuning in. The live counter eventually broke, but Vimeo showed that more than 300,000 had tuned in.
“Net neutrality is coming back with a vengeance,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her). “Politicians are slowly learning that they can’t get away with shilling for big telecom anymore. We’re harnessing the power of the Internet to save it, and any lawmaker who stands in our way will soon face the wrath of their constituents, who overwhelmingly want lawmakers to restore these basic protections. The Save the Internet Act is a straightforward bill that basically says what the entire Internet public is thinking. It sends Ajit Pai packing and keeps the Internet awesome. Lawmakers should pass it as soon as possible.”
The bill will head next to a full House Energy and Commerce Committee markup, and is expected to come up for a floor vote in April.
Like clockwork, Comcast-backed members of Congress on the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology have introduced a slew of terrible amendments that would completely gut the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644) and derail our best chance to restore the net neutrality protections that Ajit Pai’s FCC repealed in 2017.
The Save the Internet Act is the only real net neutrality bill in Congress. It’s less than 3 pages long, and it basically says “We Congress hereby tell Ajit Pai to shove it and restore the net neutrality protections he killed.”
Since the bill is so simple and easy to understand, telecom lobbyists have resorted to trying to kill it by punching it full of holes with bad amendments. Here’s a quick summary of what they’re trying:
Three of the amendments would completely replace the text of the Save the Internet Act with one of the free FAKE net neutrality bills introduced last month, essentially replacing a bill that restores net neutrality with one that destroys it.
* One amendment would kneecap the FCC’s ability to provide meaningful oversight of ISP price gouging and monopoly behavior (like throttling firefighters when they reach their data cap), leaving broadband customers vulnerable to getting screwed over more than we already are
* One amendment would attempt to create a carveout for “small ISPs,” which sounds nice on the surface, but it’s actually intended to undermine the overall protections in the bill and would mean that Internet users in rural areas don’t have the same protections as Internet users in big cities.
As of this morning, there are still four members of the subcommittee who have not said publicly where they stand on the bill or the push to gut it with amendments. Net neutrality affects every single Internet user, whether you’re a gamer, an activist, a business owner, or an educator. We have a real chance to restore the protections that never should have been taken away, but we need to keep the pressure on and make sure lawmakers know they can’t get away with telecom-sponsored shenanigans.
The stakes are high. If we can get this bill out of committee today without it getting gutted by amendments, we have a really good shot at passing it on the House floor. But if it gets scuttled by lobbyists’ sneak attack, we’re back to square one.
Starting at 10am ET today a key congressional committee will vote on the Save the Internet Act – the best bill we have to restore net neutrality.
Unfortunately Big Telecom shills on the House subcommittee voting today have already proposed dangerous amendments that could completely gut the bill or leave gaping loopholes for Internet providers to block, throttle, and charge Internet users new fees for access.
To get a clean bill that restores net neutrality passed need to show them the WHOLE INTERNET IS WATCHING.
Here are the best things you can do to help:
1. Reblog this post to spread the word. 📣
2. Embed our livestream widget into your Tumblr blog using the code here.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Communications and Technology will to hold a markup and vote on the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644) on Tuesday, March 26th. Internet activists are planning an online protest, starting today, with the intention of making the livestream of what would otherwise be a relatively obscure procedural vote go viral, to show lawmakers on the committee that “The Whole Internet is Watching.”
Fight for the Future has built a simple widget allowing any website to embed the livestream of the markup vote on their homepage or blog. They plan to place the livestream on BattleForTheNet.com and are encouraging organizations and individuals to share it widely on social media, encouraging their audiences to watch the livestream and contact Congress.
Well known sites and companies like Etsy, Tumblr, Twitter, Pornhub, Tron, Private Internet Access, BoingBoing, and Github plan to help spread the word about the vote.
The Save the Internet Act is the only real net neutrality legislation in play this Congress, but telecom lobbyists have been pushing hard for the committee to gut the bill with hostile amendments that create massive loopholes for ISPs to abuse, making this subcommittee markup vote perhaps the most important hurdle for the bill to clear. Cable-friendly Democrats in California attempted a similar ploy to gut the state net neutrality bill SB 822, but were forced to change course after the move generated massive backlash.
Volunteers organized in-person protests and petition deliveries at district offices last week as national attention has focused on five Democrats on the committee, four of whom––Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), and Kurt Schraeder (D-OR) are among the few Democrats who have not cosponsored HR 1644. Darren Soto (D-FL) is a cosponsor of the bill but indicated during a recent hearing that he was open to amendments that could weaken the bill. All five of these members have taken significant contributions from the telecom industry.
“Politicians seem to still be under the false impression that they put the interests of giant telecom companies ahead of the basic rights of their constituents and get away with it,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, the digital rights group organizing the protest, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, so we’re going to make sure that when they go to vote they know the whole Internet is watching their every move. The overwhelming majority of voters want real net neutrality protections restored, they’re not going to tolerate any funny business or trojan horse amendments pushed for by telecom lobbyists.”