In small groups across the country, demonstrators could be found Thursday holding up placards and chanting slogans can be found outside of Verizon stores. But, no, they weren't protesting against the carrier's hidden fees, dropped calls or lack of iPhone Xs.
Rather, the demonstrations are connected to the ongoing series of grassroots protests against the Trump administration's attempts to overturn the longstanding efforts to end the policy known as net neutrality through an upcoming vote at the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Bureau board on Dec. 14.
Net neutrality, as you very hopefully may have heard by now, is the current policy which requires that all Internet Service Providers treat all websites and content equally when it comes to bandwidth. That is to say, as of this moment, all sites and platforms — be they CNN, Salon or your mother's Anne Murray fansite — arrive to your computer or phone at the same speed.
If, as the Trump administration as represented by FCC head and possible tech illiterate Ajit Pai intend, net neutrality is repealed, then providers will be able to give certain preferred sites more bandwidth, more speed than others. This may, in turn, allow those providers to charge smaller sites fees in order for them to maintain speeds similar to the larger outlets, effectively throttling some and possibly forcing others to close.
Instead of an ocean of voices, the internet could become a series of corporate fiefdoms lorded over by large providers, Verizon included, should repeal pass. In theory, the internet could look less like the democratic, free place it is and more like basic cable with only a small number of monied outlets controlling information and commentary.
This is only the most visible danger the overturning of net neutrality may present. There are others.
This being the case, the grassroots group Team Internet teamed with The Freepress Action Fund, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and others to launch a series a protests outside of congressional offices across the country and, yes, at Verizon stores. The carrier, which also provides broadband access, cable access and owns the media company Oath, was a particular target given that Pai served as the associate general counsel of its media division from 2001 to 2003.
As HuffPost reported, a spokesman for Demand Progress said in a statement. “Today’s protests show how passionately Americans care about net neutrality, and how fed up they are with lawmakers siding with giant telecoms over ordinary people.”
— Mignon Clyburn (@MClyburnFCC) December 7, 2017
— TimKarr (@TimKarr) December 7, 2017
In response, Verizon released a statement that seemed, at first blush, to show at least some solidarity with the protestors. “Like those expressing their views today, Verizon fully supports an open internet and believe consumers should be able to use it to access lawful content when, where, and how they want,” it read. “We’ve publicly committed to that before and we stand by that commitment today.”
Despite that, the corporation has made statements supporting Pai's efforts to revamp net-neutrality rules and, according to reports, has funded efforts to overturn the longstanding rule. In response to similar protests in July, the company released a statement reading.
Today, some companies and organizations are taking part in a “Day of Action” on net neutrality. We respect that and applaud their passion. But for more than a decade this issue has been characterized primarily by slogans and rhetoric, and this has not led to protection of the open Internet on a permanent and predictable basis. So we respectfully suggest that real action will involve people coming together to urge Congress to pass net neutrality legislation once and for all.
Indeed, insofar as anyone can tell, the push toward overturning net neutrality and removing key online privacy protections originated with the major ISPs, Verizon included. Generally, net neutrality is popular, so much so that an open online discussion board hosted by the FCC and dedicated to collecting opinions from the public seems to have been seeded with anti-net neutrality comments from fake accounts. The New York attorney general is currently investigating that process.
Despite the protests, its unpopularity and the threat it may pose to free speech, the effort to overturn net neutrality in part or in whole is likely to pass the FCC board in a projected 3 to 2 vote next week.