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If You Want To Protect The Internet, Look To Congress


As you probably know (because it's almost unavoidable across the web), today is the "Day of Action" on behalf of net neutrality. Tons of other sites are participating in various ways. Many are popping up widgets, warning you of how crappy the internet might become if broadband access providers were allowed to create the kind of internet they dream of -- one in which they are the gatekeepers, and where they get to put tollbooths on services trying to reach you. But you already know about all that, because you already read Techdirt, and we've been talking about this for over a decade. Many sites are encouraging you to comment on the FCC's proceedings -- which you absolutely should do (even as the FCC itself is making a mockery of the commenting process, by allowing bogus and fraudulent comments in.

However, for this day of action, I wanted to focus people here on two key things. First, yes this does matter. I know that some of you think you're oh-so-cool and therefore you take the cynical approach of "it doesn't matter, man, the fix is already in" or however you phrase it, but that's bullshit. This stuff does matter. And I know that the cynical folks and the DC insiders absolutely hate when people bring this up, but other situations in the past -- including SOPA and the last net neutrality rule making -- were both situations where the "savvy" absolutely knew what was going to happen... and they were totally wrong. If enough people speak up and make things clear, change can and does happen. And if you still want to remain cynical, consider this: being cynical and insisting that nothing you do will matter guarantees that nothing you do will matter and by default helps ensure the shitty situation you're so cynical about remains shitty. Speaking up at least contributes to the possibility of things going in a better direction.

Second: while you absolutely should go and file FCC comments (and I highly recommend first reading this guide to filing impactful FCC comments from a former top FCC staffer), this fight is going to end with Congress one way or the other. Two months ago we wrote about the real game plan to destroy net neutrality, and you can see it playing out in realtime. Ajit Pai's move to get the FCC to repeal the rules is an effort to force the hand of Congress, and make it come in and create new regulations. Indeed, if you look around, it's not hard to find lots of opeds from telco-funded folks about how "Congress should solve this" (all of which pretend to support net neutrality). And, yes, this is the kind of thing that Congress should solve -- if we trusted Congress to actually do what was in the interest of the public, rather than the interests of the broadband access providers. But, right now, you shouldn't. After all, this is the same Congress that happily voted to kill broadband privacy rules, and then seemed shocked that this upset people.

So, the fight at the FCC matters, but the end game is Congress. And we all know that bad stuff can happen in Congress (especially when it comes to broadband providers writing legislation themselves). But (and this is the important part): the best way to stop bad stuff from happening in Congress is to speak up. This is what killed SOPA five years ago, even though a ton of people in Congress had signed on as co-sponsors. We've talked about this in the past: lobbyists win in Congress all the time, but only on issues where the public isn't speaking up. Congress relies on lobbyists to fill in the gaps (and sometimes that's even okay!). The problems come in when the public interest and the lobbyists' interest diverge -- and if the public isn't speaking up, then the lobbyists win. But if the public is speaking up -- and doing so loudly -- it can stop bad bills in their tracks (witness Congress's recent inability to pass any major bad legislation).

So, not only should you be commenting for the FCC's benefit, you should be calling your Representative and Senators and letting them know that if they support undermining net neutrality in any way -- even with bogus bills that pretend to support net neutrality, while really undercutting it -- then you'll no longer support them. If you can, set up meetings. Make Congress aware that this matters to you deeply. Make them aware that if they support the internet, the people on the internet will support them back. Make Congress aware that this is an issue that matters and that ignoring the will of the public (most of whom -- on both sides of the partisan aisle overwhelmingly support an open internet) will not go unnoticed by the wider internet.

Techdirt only exists because of the open internet. When I set it up almost 20 years ago, I didn't have to go and get permission. I didn't have to go and beg (or pay!) AT&T or Comcast to make sure people could reach the site. It wasn't like TV or publishing where I had to get approval from some giant gatekeeper to exist. I just got to set stuff up and now millions of people have visited and supported us over the years. The internet is wonderful because it's not TV and there aren't gatekeepers. Let's keep it that way.


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