Net neutrality protesters take to the streets – CNET

Protesters around the U.S. gathered in front of Verizon stores Thursday in a last-ditch effort to save Obama-era net neutrality rules.

The protests were organized by several advocacy groups, including Fight for the Future, in the hope of pressuring Republicans in Congress to stop the FCC from rolling back the controversial rules adopted in 2015 under President Obama.

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Protesters gathered outside a Verizon store in New York City in an effort to stop the FCC from repealing net neutrality protections.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The FCC is expected to vote on a proposal next week which repeals the regulations that prohibit broadband and wireless companies from slowing or blocking access to the internet and ban them from charging internet companies fees to access their customers faster than competitors. The proposal will also strip the FCC of authority to regulate broadband networks, leaving policing of the internet to another federal agency the Federal Trade Commission.

Protesters at a rally in New York City held signs outside the Verizon store near Bryant Park stating “Net Neutrality is Freedom of Speech” and “Keep the Internet Free.” There were also posts to social media using the hashtag #StoptheFCC.

Potesters in Washington, DC gathered outside the annual FCC Chairman’s dinner and were joined by Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who tweeted a picture of herself speaking to the crowd.

Broadband companies have supported FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to dismantle the rules, arguing the regulation is heavy-handed and has hurt investment. Verizon was the target of the protest because before his appointment to the FCC, Pai had worked as a lawyer for Verizon. The company has said it has no plans to block or slow access to the internet. But Verizon has opposed the reclassification of broadband, which imposes stricter regulation on its networks.

“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,” the company said in a statement.  “We’ve publicly committed to that before and we stand by that commitment today.”

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FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn tweeted a picture of herself speaking to protesters outside the annual FCC chairman’s dinner.  

Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Trump earlier this year, says the agency is returning to the same light touch regulatory regime of previous administrations including under Democrat Bill Clinton.

But supporters of net neutrality say that without rules broadband providers will have too much control over consumers’ access to the internet and will shut out competitors in favor of their own services, leading to less innovation and higher prices.

The issue has become starkly partisan in Congress with Democrats united in their calls to keep the regulations in place. Earlier this week more than two dozen Democratic senators sent a letter to the FCC asking the agency to delay the vote. In recent weeks, it’s been discovered that millions of comments on the net neutrality repeal proposal were from fake accounts and using stolen identities. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel along with New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Democrats in the US Senate have urged the FCC to postpone its vote until the comments can be examined.

“When the @FCC #NetNeutrality record is corrupted by a million comments with identity theft & half a million comments from Russia we need to stop & ask what went wrong,” Rosenworcel said in a tweet Thursday. “Public integrity matters.”

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