The US government is using Thanksgiving to hide its plans to destroy net neutrality
There's a simple art to releasing bad news — do it when the fewest people are looking.
That's the game plan the U.S. government's media regulator is reportedly following to release its plan to destroy net neutrality rules. The Federal Communications Commission is expected to drop its new plan on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. The rules could be voted on by mid-December, leaving the door open for internet providers to begin manipulating traffic. There's a simple art to releasing bad news — do it when the fewest people are looking.
It's a devilishly brilliant plan by the FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, who has made no secret of his wish to undo the benchmark rules put in place during Barack Obama's presidency. There will inevitably be plenty of people already enjoying their holiday break, and any major coverage on Wednesday will then be lost to a day of turkey, gravy, football, and indigestion, followed by three more days in which people won't be looking at the news.
This is the challenge that net neutrality advocates are facing, and they know it. Evan Greer, campaign director at Fight for the Future, posted on Reddit a month ago to start drumming up support.
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"There's a reason that Pai is releasing a plan that he knows will be overwhelmingly unpopular with voters from across the political spectrum on one of the busiest travel days of the year when many journalists are out of the office," Greer wrote in an email.
Net neutrality is the concept that the internet should be an even playing field. Whether it's your cousin's blog or Google, net neutrality proponents argue all data should flow the same, meaning no particular persons or companies can be favored by the networks on which the data flows. That keeps big companies from paying for preferential treatment.
This is how the internet has generally operated, but as more services move online, concerns have grown that internet service providers will want to start charging for better access. Net neutrality supporters argue that this would turn the internet into a pay-to-play world, hampering innovations and leaving people to the whims of major companies.
Pai has been working to repeal the FCC's net neutrality rules since the start of his time as chairman, a position to which President Donald Trump appointed him after Pai served as a commissioner under Obama. Pai floated initial rules in May, which led into the usual comment period that FCC rule changes go through.
That process was a disaster, including accusations that the comment system had been manipulated with automated submissions. The FCC has ignored records requests over this situation and now faces a lawsuit over the fiasco. Studies have found near unanimous support among non-form comments for the existing net neutrality rules.
The lack of support for Pai's move informs the tactics with which he's been pushing the news rules. Greer noted that this isn't the first time they've dealt with this.
"That said, we're pretty used to government agencies trying to hide their misdeeds and avoid the news cycle," he wrote. "One of the things that makes the Internet so great is that it makes it much harder for them to do that. We'll be sure to sound the alarm online when Pai's plan comes out, and we'll be encouraging everyone to call their members of Congress and demand that they actually read the plan and have an intelligent position on what's in it."
An FCC spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Sounding the alarm, however, isn't that easy to do—especially in the time frame required. Net neutrality advocates will have about three weeks before the December 15 meeting in which the FCC is expected to vote. Pai has thus far shown no interest in hearing from such advocates.
This has led Fight for the Future to focus on getting people to reach out to Congress. The organization set up www.battleforthenet.com as a place where people can easily call their representatives and encourage them to slow the FCC's efforts.
"Pai has made it clear he doesn't care what the public, or tech experts, or small businesses, or anyone else other than big telecom companies think," Greeg wrote. "But he has to answer to Congress, so the best way for people to make their voices heard right now is to contact their lawmakers and tell them to stop the FCC from voting on this absurd proposal."