November 21, 2017

Net neutrality proponents to hold protests at Verizon stores in Philly, other cities

Protests Net Neutrality
Ajit Pai Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

In this 2015 file photo, then-Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai speaks during an open hearing and vote on "Net Neutrality" in Washington. Pai, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in January to head the FCC, is following through on his pledge to scrap the Obama-era regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally.

Opponents of a move to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules plan to hold a slew of protests outside Verizon stories in cities across the country, including Philadelphia.

Politico first reported on Monday that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to roll back the rules, which reclassified internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T as a Title II communication service, which essentially treats ISPs as a public utility. It also barred providers from favoring certain types of web content over others.

Pai distributed an alternative proposal to net neutrality rules to the board on Tuesday. His proposal would give ISPs the power to determine what websites their consumers see, and would charge companies to have their content delivered at faster speeds, according to multiple reports.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Pai, who served as an associate general counsel at Verizon from 2001 to 2003, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Several groups of net neutrality proponents are collaborating to organize the last-minute protests against the move on Dec. 7.

One protest is planned outside Verizon's location at Ninth and Race streets in Center City.

"The new chairman of the FCC was a top guy at Verizon, and he just called a vote to kill net neutrality," an event page for the Philly protest states of Pai, who was nominated by President Donald Trump in January to head the FCC.

"On December 7, one week before the vote, we'll protest at retail stores across the U.S. and demand that Congress stop Verizon’s FCC from destroying the Internet as we know it," it adds.

Organizers are asking protesters to treat employees at each targeted Verizon store with "the utmost respect."

"Please remember, this event is about protesting actions of Verizon executives, lobbyists and their supporters in Washington, not the employees at these stores," organizers said.

One group involved with organizing the protests, Fight for the Future, told The Hill that it wants to raise awareness of the upcoming vote outside crowded stores during the busy holiday season.

"The corrupt bureaucrats trying to kill net neutrality are hoping to avoid public backlash by burying the news over the Holiday weekend,” Fight for the Future's Evan Greer told The Hill. “We’re taking our protest from the Internet to the streets to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Organizers are reportedly targeting Verizon because of Pai's past affiliation with the company.

Verizon and Philly-based Comcast were among ISPs to laud Pai's decision, claiming that the 2015 rules hampered broadband innovation. But tech giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook and others strongly oppose the plan.

David Cohen, a senior executive vice president at Comcast, wrote in a blog post that the FCC vote would not mark the end of net neutrality. He noted that ISPs would be required to disclose net neutrality practices to consumers.

"We do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content – and we will be transparent with our customers about these policies," he wrote.