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Net Neutrality Protests Coming to More Than 600 Verizon Stores on Thursday

Phillip Dampier December 6, 2017 Consumer News, Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Thousands of pro-Net Neutrality supporters are expected to protest the imminent repeal of rules protecting a free and open internet at more than 600 Verizon retail stores nationwide on Thursday, Dec. 6.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is likely to preside over a 3-2 Republican majority Dec. 14 vote rolling back rules that prevent internet service providers from blocking or slowing access to websites and creating paid “fast lanes.”

“The protests are meant to pierce the protective bubble of industry lobbyists and ‘yes men’ who’ve surrounded Chairman Pai,” said Free Press Action Fund senior director of strategy Timothy Karr,  who helped coordinate the day of action. “The outcry from across the political spectrum has been deafening. Pai’s effort to ignore the overwhelming public support for Net Neutrality only isolates him further from the people he’s really supposed to serve.”

The largest protest is expected to take place at Verizon’s Manhattan store on 42nd Street near Bryant Park. Other New York-area protests will occur at Verizon stores and offices in Lower Manhattan, Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and Fordham University (the Bronx).

Verizon Protests, a website run by several internet activist groups, is coordinating the public pushback against Pai and features an online map showing scheduled protest locations, asking those planning to attend to RSVP and find out the time of the protest at each location.

The group chose Verizon’s retail stores for its protests because Verizon is funding anti-Net Neutrality campaigns and lawsuits.

“The new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a former top lawyer for Verizon, and the company has been spending millions on lobbying and lawsuits to kill Net Neutrality so they can gouge us all for more money,” the website says. “By protesting at Verizon stores, we’re shining light on the corruption and demanding that our lawmakers do something about it. Only Congress has the power to stop Verizon’s puppet FCC, so at the protests we’ll be calling and tweeting at legislators, and in some cities we’ll be protesting right in front of their offices.”

The group is encouraging everyone to also take their protest to their members of Congress.

“Everybody can call (202) 759-7766.  Please introduce yourself, be polite, and say and say something like: “I support “Title Two” Net Neutrality rules and I would like you to publicly oppose the FCC’s plan to repeal them,” the group advises in a three-page protest guide. “Please contact the FCC Chairman and demand that he abandon his current plan. We don’t need legislation, we need you to stop the FCC from gutting the existing rules.”

The Many Lies of Ajit Pai About Net Neutrality

Pai

I’ve done a LOT of interviews and talk shows on the issue of Net Neutrality over the last two weeks. After listening to the talking point-festooned “experts” and show hosts with a political agenda, your listeners, readers, and I will not be gaslighted by the exceptionally ridiculous condescension campaign now underway by Net Neutrality opponents.

For those who don’t know, “gaslighting” refers to manipulating someone into questioning or second-guessing their beliefs by distorting facts, attempting to delegitimize evidence with falsehoods, confusing the issues, and suggesting one lacks credibility to speak or write on an issue… because they said so.

Fortunately, when these “facts” come from a cable/telco bought-and-paid-for policy institute or lobbyist, it is easy to identify these campaigns and debunk them. It is also entertaining to turn the tables by questioning the source of their talking points and the agendas in play. We always ask these individuals where the money comes from for their “policy institute” and the answers are always not revealing. For the record, Stop the Cap! doesn’t accept corporate donations, period. We accept contributions exclusively from individuals. It takes just a few seconds to explain our funding while the other side takes minutes tap-dancing around the corporate dark money that funds their efforts.

Phillip Dampier: Don’t gaslight me, bro!

Thankfully, there have been a lot of newspaper reporters taking time to understand the issues and have shown professionalism in their reporting. But some radio talk show hosts unfortunately don’t do as well and rely on short-sighted political positioning, “rescue” their cornered allies with convenient commercial breaks, interrupt, or change the subject with baited questions when the facts don’t go their way. Net Neutrality is NOT a conservative or liberal issue, but some attempt to make it one by injecting President Barack Obama’s name into the debate or claim Net Neutrality represents government control of the internet.

Speaking of facts, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s latest arguments for his Christmas gift repeal of Net Neutrality for the telecom industry uses similar gaslighting and false talking points that distract from a fact-based debate on these issues.

As millions of consumers express outrage over Pai’s unbending agenda to allow internet service providers to create an unlevel internet playing field and paid prioritization fast lanes that favor some content over others (as long as they disclose it), Pai and his staff are now resorting to calling Americans who favor the current free and open internet “desperate” or ignorant about how the internet works.

But you know more than you think, reminded each month (when the bill arrives) of the special ability of companies like Comcast to abuse the customer relationship with skyrocketing rates, data caps, and unhelpful customer service. Giving companies like this more ways to charge you more for the same service has never worked to your advantage.

Net Neutrality is one of only a few tools available to the FCC to keep ISPs in check. Banning data caps and zero rating schemes would be another great way to protect consumers from Wall Street’s insatiable demand for companies to extract more revenue from consumers. Investors know full well in a monopoly/duopoly marketplace there is every incentive to gouge and very little risk of losing customers doing so.

Our friends at Free Press did considerable research to debunk some of Mr. Pai’s talking points in a long series of tweets we thought would be illuminating:

Jangling Shiny Keys of Distraction: Pai Claims Twitter, Edge Providers are the Real Threat to Open Internet

Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has gone all out to defend internet service providers and his plan to jettison Net Neutrality, claiming companies like Twitter and other “edge providers” that offer a platform to a diversity of voices are a much bigger threat to an open internet than companies like AT&T and Comcast.

Speaking at the Future of Internet Freedom conference in Washington, Pai faced down the torrent of criticism that has been expressed about his plans to roll back Title II enforcement of ISPs and Net Neutrality rules that protect internet content from discriminatory behavior. In remarks to the audience, Pai used partisan framing to criticize companies like Twitter that he claims have targeted bans on conservative users who violate its terms and conditions and removes tweets for political reasons.

“Now look, I love Twitter, and I use it all the time,” Pai said. “But let’s not kid ourselves; when it comes to an open internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate. As just one of many examples, two months ago, Twitter blocked Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) from advertising her Senate campaign launch video because it featured a pro-life message. Before that, during the so-called Day of Action [to preserve Net Neutrality], Twitter warned users that a link to a statement by one company on the topic of internet regulation ‘may be unsafe.’  And to say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users.  This conduct is many things, but it isn’t fighting for an open internet.”

Pai also used additional examples of “edge provider” censorship that he claims targets conservatives far more often than liberals:

  • Apple’s app store bars apps from cigar aficionados as promoting tobacco use
  • YouTube “restricts videos from the likes of conservative commentator Dennis Prager on subjects he considers ‘important to understanding American values.'”
  • Mysterious algorithms target content to specific users but without transparency and disclosure
  • Edge providers champion their own free speech while supporting online censorship at the behest of foreign governments for business reasons.

But Pai’s own statements lacked transparency:

  1. Twitter blocked, then rescinded its block, on one sponsored Tweet from Blackburn that claimed in the ad she ‘stopped the sale of baby body parts.’ Twitter declared the ad was inflammatory and violated Twitter’s advertising standards. Other media fact-checkers were less polite, calling her claim false advertising. “No investigation ever found proof of actual tissue sales. The only criminal charges stemming from the videos were filed against antiabortion activist David Daleiden and another activist in California for violations of privacy. Yet to this day, ‘baby body parts’ remain a rallying cry in conservative and antiabortion circles,” according to a Washington Post story. Twitter’s advertising standards differ from its general code of user conduct.
  2. Apple’s app store does indeed block apps promoting products deemed harmful to users. There is no financial incentive to block these apps, however. The specific language: “Apps that encourage consumption of tobacco products, illegal drugs, or excessive amounts of alcohol are not permitted on the App Store. Apps that encourage minors to consume any of these substances will be rejected. Facilitating the sale of marijuana, tobacco, or controlled substances (except for licensed pharmacies) isn’t allowed.”
  3. Pai suggests YouTube is unfairly restricting Mr. Prager’s videos, but in fact it is only placing advisories on some of his more inflammatory content warning the video may not be suitable for some audiences. YouTube also demonetized certain videos, making them ineligible for pre-roll advertisements, primarily because advertisers do not want to be associated with inflammatory content. But no videos have been censored, blocked, or removed. Anyone can view them by acknowledging the content advisory. Members of the LGBTQ community have also been upset with YouTube for similar actions, so there is scant evidence YouTube’s motives are political and target conservatives.
  4. Pai’s ‘mysterious algorithms’ have existed across the internet for years, including Verizon’s “super cookie” and AT&T that extracted more money from customers to switch off its monitoring and tracking software following customers’ internet usage. Pai was highly instrumental in blocking internet privacy regulations that would have forced the kind of disclosure of practices he suddenly objects to now.
  5. Pai’s claims about American companies caving in to foreign governments’ censorship policies seem to echo his similar 2015 claim that Net Neutrality also helps authoritarian regimes, as long as one interprets Net Neutrality as a “government takeover” of the internet. “If in the United States we adopt regulations that assert more government control over how the internet operates… it becomes a lot more difficult for us to go on the international stage and tell governments: ‘Look, we want you to keep your hands off the internet. Even if the ideas aren’t completely identical, you can appreciate the optical difficult[y] in trying to make that case,” Pai said. But that argument distorts like a fun house mirror. Pai’s declaration that Net Neutrality is a bad thing is based on his premise it would hand the keys to information control to the government to act as gatekeeper. He prefers trusting private companies to be more reliable and safer gatekeepers than the FCC or the Trump Administration. But that argument puts Pai at war with himself, considering his attacks on edge providers — private companies — for bias and censorship. Incidentally and ironically, he raised many of his 2015 objections on RT — the external television service of Russian State Television.

Pai reserved much of his remarks to attack Hollywood celebrities that occasionally inelegantly promote Net Neutrality with inexact language Pai loves to exploit. Among his targets were Mark Ruffalo, who played Hulk, Cher, and George “Sulu” Takei.

Takei

Pai called out Mr. Takei for his suggestion eliminating Net Neutrality would allow internet companies to further monetize the internet by selling additional packages of services to access certain internet content.

“The complaint by Mr. Takei and others doesn’t hold water. They’re arguing that if the plan is adopted, Internet Service Providers would suddenly start doing something that Net Neutrality rules already allow them to do. But the reason that Internet service providers aren’t offering such packages now, and likely won’t offer such packages in the future, is that American consumers by and large don’t want them.”

But of course that didn’t prevent ISPs like Comcast and AT&T to impose data caps on their customers with scant evidence of their necessity and with purely arbitrary allowances. From this regime of data caps, Wall Street analysts push providers to further monetize internet usage to raise revenue to return to shareholders. What customers want has not had much impact on Comcast’s business decisions, as the record on data caps illustrates. The threat of regulation like Net Neutrality enforcement has cooled enthusiasm for these pricing schemes, however, until recently. In April, after Mr. Pai introduced his Net Neutrality repeal plan, Comcast quietly repealed its self-ban on paid prioritization — internet fast lanes.

In a barely competitive marketplace, what customers want may not count for much if they have few, if any alternatives.

Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, which includes as member major Silicon Valley edge providers, called Pai’s speech a diversion from the real issues.

“Chairman Pai’s attack on Twitter is like a boxer losing a fight and taking wild and erratic swings,” Pickering said. “Preventing hate speech and bullying behavior online is not the same thing as allowing cable companies to block, throttle and extort money from consumers and the websites they love. Twitter is an amazing platform for left, right and center. Donald Trump might not be President without it, and Chairman Pai’s plan to kill Net Neutrality will put Comcast and AT&T in charge of his Twitter account.”

Lexington, Ky. Has a Solution for Its Charter/Spectrum Problems: A New Fiber Competitor

An Indiana company will spend between $70 and $100 million building a fiber-to-the-home network delivering gigabit broadband speed in Lexington, Ky., partly in response to months of consumer dissatisfaction with Charter Communications’ Spectrum service.

MetroNet could make Lexington the largest gigabit city in the country, according to the city’s mayor Jim Gray.

“Santa Claus is coming to town,” Gray said.

Headquartered in Evansville, Ind., MetroNet provides internet, phone and television service across a 100% fiber optic network in 35 communities in the midwest —  mostly in Indiana and the western suburbs of Chicago. The company started operations in 2005, wiring the community of Greencastle, Ind. Since then, it has grown with the financial support of billionaire investors including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Nike’s Phil Knight. Oak Hill Equity Partners, a private equity firm, has a financial interest in MetroNet, along with investments in WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, Wave Broadband, and Cincinnati Bell.

MetroNet may have selected Lexington because it has a poorly received cable operator — Spectrum, and Windstream, a competitively inadequate phone company. Windstream does not provide the kind of service AT&T’s U-verse and AT&T Fiber offers in other Kentucky cities.

All of Lexington’s residents could get service from MetroNet is as little as three or four years, because the company has agreed to wire the entire urban service area, a departure from the “fiberhood” concept introduced by Google, wiring individual neighborhoods only after a sufficient number of customers pre-register for service and pay a deposit. The project is likely to win a quick approval from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, allowing construction to begin in January. Because MetroNet sells television service, it will have to apply for and receive a franchise from the city.

“This means three things,” Gray said. “First, a fiber-optic network will provide gigabit speeds to homes and businesses. Second, it will bring a new cable provider to Lexington, which will bring competition to Spectrum and Windstream. MetroNet will have Kentucky basketball. Third, MetroNet has a great record of customer service.”

Prices and packaging:

  • 100/25Mbps $49.95
  • 200/75Mbps $59.95
  • 500/100Mbps $69.95
  • 1,000/250Mbps $89.95
  • Television packages range from $18-79 a month
  • Digital Phone service is $9.95 a month
  • Discounts of $10-20 a month are available for customers selecting a two year “price lock” agreement
  • a $9.95/mo “technology fee” also applies.

Although most welcome the competition, some noticed MetroNet does not intend to sell service at fire sale prices.

“I checked their rates in Lafayette, Ind. and they weren’t that cheap,” commented James Wood. “100Mbps internet + Standard tier TV+ phone was $146/mo for two years.”

MetroNet uniquely charges exactly the prices it pays for cable television networks, with no mark-up. (1:39)

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Plan to Eliminate Net Neutrality

Pai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission unveiled plans on Tuesday to repeal landmark 2015 rules that prohibited internet service providers from impeding consumer access to web content in a move that promises to recast the digital landscape.

FCC chief Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed by President Donald Trump in January, said the commission will vote at a Dec. 14 meeting on his plan to rescind the so-called Net Neutrality rules championed by Democratic former President Barack Obama that treated internet service providers like public utilities.

The rules barred broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to content or charging consumers more for certain content. They were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband service providers from favoring their own content.

The action marks a victory for big internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications that opposed the rules and gives them sweeping powers to decide what web content consumers can get and at what price.

It represents a setback for Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook, which had urged Pai not to rescind the rules.

With three Republican and two Democratic commissioners, the move is all but certain to be approved. Trump, a Republican, expressed his opposition to Net Neutrality in 2014 before the regulations were even implemented, calling it a “power grab” by Obama.

Pai said his proposal would prevent state and local governments from creating their own Net Neutrality rules because internet service is “inherently an interstate service.” The preemption is most likely to handcuff Democratic-governed states and localities that could have considered their own plans to protect consumers’ equal access to internet content.

“The FCC will no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and preemptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive,” Pai said in an interview, adding that the Obama administration had sought to pick winners and losers and exercised “heavy-handed” regulation of the internet.

“We should simply set rules of the road that let companies of all kinds in every sector compete and let consumers decide who wins and loses,” Pai added.

Tom Wheeler, who headed the FCC under Obama and advocated for the Net Neutrality rules, called the planned repeal “a shameful sham and sellout. Even for this FCC and its leadership, this proposal raises hypocrisy to new heights.”

AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have said that repealing the rules could lead to billions of dollars in additional broadband investment and eliminate the possibility that a future presidential administration could regulate internet pricing.

‘HEAVY COSTS’

Pelosi: FCC move will hurt consumers and chill competition.

Verizon said it believed the FCC “will reinstate a framework that protects consumers’ access to the open internet, without forcing them to bear the heavy costs from unnecessary regulation.”

The Internet Association, representing major technology firms including Alphabet and Facebook, said Pai’s proposal “represents the end of Net Neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans. This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline Net Neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet.”

Pai’s proposal would require internet service providers to disclose whether they allow blocking or slowing down of consumer web access or permit so-called internet fast lanes to facilitate a practice called paid prioritization of charging for certain content. Such disclosure will make it easier for another agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to act against internet service providers that fail to disclose such conduct to consumers, Pai said.

A U.S. appeals court last year upheld the legality of the Net Neutrality regulations, which were challenged in a lawsuit led by telecommunications industry trade association US Telecom.

The group praised Pai’s decision to remove “antiquated, restrictive regulations” to “pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades.”

The FCC’s repeal is certain to draw a legal challenge from advocates of Net Neutrality.

Nancy Pelosi, the top U.S. House of Representatives Democrat, said the FCC move would hurt consumers and chill competition, saying the agency “has launched an all-out assault on the entrepreneurship, innovation and competition at the heart of the internet.”

Republican Senator John Thune said Pai’s plan was an improvement over the Obama rules but that “the only way to create long-term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”

The planned repeal represents the latest example of a legacy achievement of Obama being erased since Trump took office in January. Trump has abandoned international trade deals, the landmark Paris climate accord and environmental protections, taken aim at the Iran nuclear accord and closer relations with Cuba, and sought repeal Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Pai, who has moved quickly to undo numerous regulatory actions since becoming FCC chairman, is pushing a broad deregulatory agenda. Pai said he had not shared his plans on the rollback with the White House in advance or been directed to undo Net Neutrality by White House officials.

The FCC under Obama regulated internet service providers like public utilities under a section of federal law that gave the agency sweeping oversight over the conduct of these companies.

Language in the new proposal would give the FCC significantly less authority to oversee the web. The FCC granted initial approval to Pai’s plan in May, but had left open many key questions including whether to retain any legal requirements limiting internet providers conduct.

His plan also would eliminate the “internet conduct standard,” which gave the FCC far-reaching discretion to prohibit internet service provider practices deemed to violate a list of factors and sought to address future discriminatory conduct.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham

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