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January 05, 2018

'Outraged and disgusted' net neutrality supporters to march in Philly

Hundreds, if not more, look set to march in support of net neutrality in Philadelphia next weekend, less than a month after a contentious Federal Communications Commission vote along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules.

At 1 p.m. on Jan. 13, the group plans to gather at Thomas Paine Plaza outside the Municipal Services Building, 15th Street and JFK Boulevard. Then, demonstrators will march in Center City in an effort to "show the FCC and their corporate partners the outcry of Americans and the importance of a free, equal internet to all," a Facebook page for the event states.

"We the people are outraged and disgusted at the FCC's vote against Net Neutrality; despite the large majority of Americans in support of it," the page reads. "Bring signs, demand change, and let's show (FCC Chairman) Ajit Pai what Americans really want."

Organizers plan to call on Congress to preserve the regulations and treat the internet as a public service. Among other demands, they also want the city to install its own municipal broadband network and will call for universal, affordable internet access, co-organizer Meg Vyasan said on Friday.

Initially, Vyasan and fellow organizers Sean Miller and Tom Kister talked of starting a march after the FCC voted on Dec. 14 to eliminate regulations that classified internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon as public utilities and barred them from charging consumers for access to certain sites or higher network speeds.

"We wanted to do something about it," Vyasan, a Temple University junior, said of the vote.

They soon launched the Facebook page, which shows a purported 800 people who intend on marching and 9,700 more who are "interested."

"It’s not a one-and-done type of thing," she said of the vote. "These are fights that are going on for a while. We have to keep getting out there."

Along with the Facebook following, Vyasan said organizers hope the group can eclipse 1,000 marchers.

As of Friday, the organizers had connected with Philly Socialists, Philadelphia Socialist Alternative, Refuse Fascism and other local activist groups in an effort to spread the word and bolster the rally's size.

When asked where in town the group will  march and if those plans involve gathering outside the Comcast Center, soon to be one of two hard-to-miss Center City skyscrapers serving as the cable and internet giant's headquarters, Vyasan declined to say.

She did say the group plans to end the event with a "direct action."

"We're saving that as a surprise," she said.

ISPs and other supporters of the decision have downplayed criticisms from those who say the vote could mean big changes for the internet down the line.

Following the vote, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen wrote in a blog post that rolling back the rules would nix "heavy-handed government regulation" and pledged that Comcast would not keep customers from viewing any legal content on the web. He also stated the company does not plan to implement paid fast lanes, which would mean additional charges for access to higher internet speeds.

But after April 26, the day Pai announced he intended to scrap the rules, Comcast reportedly altered its page on "being committed to an Open Internet," appearing to scrap statements that pledged not to prioritize internet traffic or create fast lanes. Instead, the page now states it does not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful content.

The FCC released the final version of its order to repeal the regulations on Thursday, Ars Technica reported. The repeal takes effect 60 days after its published in the Federal Register, which has not yet happened.