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Facebook, Google Wake Up From Their Coma On The Subject, Join Wednesday's Massive Net Neutrality Protest


So if you hadn't heard, Wednesday will bear witness to a major protest (both online and off) against the FCC's plan to kill popular net neutrality protections here in the States. Spearheaded by consumer advocacy group Fight for the Future, the "day of action" is an effort to bring attention to the attack on net neutrality, to drive more people to the FCC's comment proceeding, and to generate a wave of backlash supporters hope will mirror the SOPA/PIPA uprising. Countless small companies, consumer groups, and many large companies (including Amazon, Reddit, and Netflix) will be participating in the protests.

But also joining the proceedings are several Silicon Valley giants that, in recent years, have not just been apathetic to genuine net neutrality, but in many instances have actively worked to undermine the concept. While they didn't make a formal announcement (that would have been too bold), both Google and Facebook reps are quietly telling news outlets they'll be participating in the protests. The depth of their involvement isn't clear, but managers of the campaign say they're obviously happy with the support all the same:

"We have not heard directly from either Facebook or Google, but we’re glad to hear that these companies are listening to their employees and Internet users and will speak out for net neutrality with the rest of the Internet on July 12," Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future and an organizer for the event, said in a statement.

"In previous years these companies have often been on the sidelines of these fights, so we hope that they plan to do something meaningful in the spirit of the protest and educate their users about what’s at stake if we lose net neutrality protections that protect our online free speech, and give them opportunities to take action."

Saying that Google and Facebook have been "on the sidelines" of the net neutrality fight is understandably polite on Greer's part. Both have been working hard to broaden their lobbying focus under the Trump administration, and both have been more than happy to sacrifice some integrity (and the health of the internet) in the process. They've not only been mute as the FCC has taken aim at the rules, but historically they've taken actions to directly undermine the entire concept of network neutrality -- here and abroad.

You'll recall Facebook faced a massive backlash in India after it tried to corner the ad market with a free, AOL-esque service that critics say gave Facebook far too much influence over what content consumers would see. Criticism only grew after the "zero rated" service initially went so far as to prohibit the use of encryption. India ultimately banned the practice after critics like Mozilla pointed out that if you want to bring internet access to the poor -- you should actually bring real internet access to the poor, not a curated walled garden that only thinly disguises your international ad ambitions.

While consistently still portrayed by some press outlets as a net neutrality ally, Google has also effectively been AWOL from the discussion since 2010, when it actively worked to make the FCC's initial rules as flimsy as possible. Working hand in hand with AT&T and Verizon, Google played a big part in ensuring the original rules didn't even cover wireless networks. When efforts emerged in 2015 to craft the notably tougher rules we currently have (for now), Google was nowhere to be found -- and has lobbied pretty consistently against net neutrality protections for consumers overseas.

So yes, while it should be applauded that both companies are participating in Wednesday's proceedings, the depth of their participation is far from clear, and their efforts to undermine net neutrality in recent years should not be forgotten by those working to keep the internet a relatively open and healthy platform for competition and free speech.


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