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Battle For the Net: Mass Day of Action Aims to Stop Trump's FCC from Destroying Free & Open Internet

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On Wednesday, nearly 70,000 websites and organizations are planning to take part in massive online protest to save net neutrality. Participating websites will reportedly display messages on their homepages and encourage users to take action to save the internet as we know it. Supporters of the day of action include internet giants such as Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Reddit. Earlier this year, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outlined his plans to dismantle net neutrality rules despite polling that shows most Americans support a free and open internet. For more, we speak with former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps and Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. She is helping organize Wednesday’s Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

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Video squareStoryMay 09, 2017Trump's FCC Chair Declares New War on Net Neutrality After 10-Year Battle for Free & Open Internet
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to look at the fight for the future of the internet. On Wednesday, nearly 70,000 websites and organizations are planning to take part in a massive online protest to save net neutrality. Participating websites will reportedly display messages on their homepages and encourage users to take action to save the internet as we know it. Supporters of the action include internet giants such as Twitter, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Reddit. Supporters of net neutrality say the rules are needed to keep the internet open and prevent corporate service providers from blocking access to websites, slowing down content or providing paid fast lanes for internet service.

AMY GOODMAN: But net neutrality has come under attack by the Trump administration. Earlier this year, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has outlined his plan to dismantle net neutrality rules, despite polling that shows most Americans support a free and open internet. The FCC has a ready received a record 5.6 million comments on net neutrality.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Washington, D.C., Michael Copps is with us, who served as FCC commissioner from 2001 to 2012. He’s currently special adviser on media and democracy reform at Common Cause. And joining us from Boston, Massachusetts, is Evan Greer, the campaign director of Fight for the Future. She’s helping organize Wednesday’s Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.

Evan, let’s begin with you. Talk about this nationwide action tomorrow, on Wednesday, what it’s all about, what specifically you’re targeting.

EVAN GREER: So, this is a moment for everyone, whether you’re an ordinary internet user with a few hundred Instagram fans or a major website with hundreds of thousands of daily visitors, to harness the power of the web to defend this profoundly democratizing technology that’s given more of us a voice than ever before. We need to stop companies like Comcast and Verizon from being able to control what we can see and do online, and protect this platform for freedom of expression and social change.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Commissioner Copps, could you go over for our listeners and viewers the importance of this Title II decision that the new chairman of the FCC is seeking to overturn?

MICHAEL COPPS: Well, first of all, the network is so vital to economic opportunity and innovation, and especially to democracy. I think Evan said it well. This is a tool of unparalleled power that can help us to build democracy. When you look at what has happened to mainstream media—radio, television and cable—how it has been corporatized and commercialized and consolidated, how much journalism we have lost, you really get down to the essential question: Is media providing the news and information that citizens need in order to make intelligent decisions for the future? There’s a lot of evidence that that’s really not happening right now.

Net neutrality, however, is a free speech issue. And at its center is the ability of Americans to go where they want on the internet, to access the content that they want and to be treated like everybody else is treated, so you don’t have Comcast and AT&T and Verizon acting as gatekeepers and having the power to slow down sites that they don’t like or to block or to throttle, or to give fast lanes to a few while the rest of us struggle along on slow lanes. To be a fully participating citizen in 21st century America, you have to have access to high-speed, affordable broadband. And that’s what’s at issue now.

This issue has been to the federal courts three times now in the last 10 years. And three times the court has said, if you want to protect net neutrality, the only enforceable way to do it is through the rules that were passed in 2015 by the Tom Wheeler-led Federal Communications Commission. There’s no other way to do it. So, for Chairman Pai to come now and say, "Well, I’m going to figure out some other way to do this that’s not Title II," just means that he’s trying to get rid of net neutrality, just like they’re trying to get rid of privacy, just like they’re trying to get rid of subsidized broadband for the poor in America. It’s really—it’s really full speed in reverse.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve called this FCC commission, Commissioner Copps, the worst you have ever seen. Why?

MICHAEL COPPS: Well, because, you know, we’ve been building for the last five or six years and doing good things on communications, on E-rate, the program for schools and libraries, to expand that, to expand Lifeline so all Americans could enjoy it, no matter what their economic status, to spread broadband around the country in hard-to-reach inner cities and rural America, and now we’re doing away with all of that.

And there’s no question in my mind that a communications so important as broadband has to have some public interest oversight. It has to be used for the benefit of the people, and it cannot be turned over wholesale to a few ISPs. You know, for a long time, people in the early stages of the internet thought, "Well, you don’t have to worry about the internet, because it’s so open, it’s so dynamic, it’s immune from the laws of consolidation and all this stuff. Power is at the edges." And it didn’t take too many years for us to figure out that that’s not the direction it was going. It was going down the same road as radio and television and cable. And we cannot let that happen to this most powerful tool, technology tool, in all of history to help us expand democracy, to build a society where democracy is paved with those broadband bricks mentioned at the outset of the show.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to turn to FCC Chair Ajit Pai speaking earlier this year about the future of internet regulation. This is what he said.

AJIT PAI: The economics are simple here: More heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re going to get. And when you talk about less infrastructure investment, many people’s eyes glaze over. But I think it’s important to explain in plain terms what the consequences are. Reduced investment means fewer Americans will have high-speed internet access. It means fewer Americans will have jobs. And it means less competition for American consumers. So, what happened after the FCC imposed Title II? Sure enough, infrastructure investments declined. Among our nation’s 12 largest internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6 percent, or $3.6 billion, between 2014 and 2016, the first two years of the Title II era.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, former Commissioner Copps, what about this issue that Ajit Pai raises that infrastructure investment by the private sector has declined rapidly since the Title II net neutrality laws were put into effect?

MICHAEL COPPS: That’s just absolutely nonsensical. I don’t know where Ajit got his facts from, but not too many weeks ago I heard Michael Powell, former chairman of the FCC, who now runs the cable association, talk about how phenomenal the investment was in the internet. And open up your papers every day, and you see these companies paying billions and billions of dollars for one another. And the bazaar has really opened at the FCC now, because everybody knows this FCC is going to approve more and more mergers, more and more acquisitions and transactions, leading to further commercialization and consolidation. So, it’s a huge threat. And most of the studies are telling us that investment is more than holding its own. I mean, this is one of the most dynamic sectors in the economy. So, I think that’s a case of fearmongering tied to ideology and tied to the special interests.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to comedian John Oliver. Earlier this year, he dedicated nearly 20 minutes of his HBO program to explaining that net neutrality is under threat. He directed much of his criticism to FCC Chair Ajit Pai.

JOHN OLIVER: Pai’s main argument is that we don’t need Title II to have net neutrality. But some of his ideas for what to have instead are almost laughably lax. For instance, he reportedly floated just having ISPs voluntarily agree not to obstruct or slow consumer access to web content by putting that promise in their terms of service—you know, the things that no human being has ever read, and that can change whenever companies want them to. That idea would basically make net neutrality as binding as a proposal on The Bachelor.

AMY GOODMAN: John Oliver ended his show by calling on his viewers to write to the FCC, just as he did after a similar segment in 2014. Once again, the enormous response broke the commission’s website—which goes to the issue of activism, which is why we go back to Evan Greer. Specifically tomorrow, what are you going to be doing?

EVAN GREER: So tomorrow is a day, again, where everyone can come together. So, on many of your favorite websites, from Amazon, Netflix, Kickstarter, Etsy, OkCupid, you’re going to be seeing prominent messages that will direct people to a place where they can easily take action. We have a site, BattleForTheNet.com, where anyone can easily submit a comment to the FCC and contact their member of Congress at the same time.

That second part is really important, because, as Commissioner Copps said, this FCC commissioner, Ajit Pai, has made it very clear that he’s not listening to the public. He’s only listening to the cable companies, that he used to work for, and he intends to give them exactly what they want, which is the power to pick and choose what we can all see and do on the internet. But the thing is, the FCC answers to Congress. And our members of Congress are supposed to answer to us. The polling shows that voters from across the political spectrum—Democrats, independents, Republicans, doesn’t matter—overwhelmingly agree we don’t want our cable companies to be able to censor us, charge us extra fees or essentially be the editors-in-chief of the internet. So, this is why it’s so important that people use these tools, speak out, show up at their member of Congress’s offices and make this an issue that they know they will be burned by if they burn their constituents. These members of Congress are already reeling from the backlash to their attack on our internet privacy rules just a few months ago, and they’re particularly sensitive to this right now. So this is an incredibly important moment for everyone to be speaking out.

There’s lots of tools at BattleForTheNet.com, where anyone, whether, again, you’re an internet user that’s just posting on social media, you run a website, you have a small business, there’s lots of ways to get involved. And we can’t sit back and expect big companies to save us, because, in the end, this is really about all the weird, interesting, small, alternative things that make up the beautiful fabric of the internet, whether it’s Chess.com, the largest chess service online, or online gaming forums or communities where people find alternative news. This is our free speech fight of our generation. Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the internet, and we intend to fight to defend it.

AMY GOODMAN: Evan Greer, we want to thank you for being with us, campaign director of Fight for the Future. And we’ll cover what happens tomorrow in the Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality. And, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, former commissioner, we’d like to ask you to stay with us as we address other issues around your former time at the FCC and the current FCC commission. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "New Orbit" by the Matthew Shipp Trio, from the album Rock the Net: Musicians for Network Neutrality. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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