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Competing Campaigns Over Net Neutrality Heat Up

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Eric Lieberman Deputy Editor

People on either side of the net neutrality debate — which centers around whether the government should be in almost complete charge of the internet — are vying to have their arguments heard and eventually turned into public policy Tuesday with competing protests and coinciding campaigns.

Despite the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voting in December to repeal internet regulations put in place by the agency during the Obama administration, the battle over the rules doesn’t appear to be over, especially for one faction.

Fifty senators, specifically 47 Democrats, two Independents, and one lone Republican, have endorsed a legislative maneuver known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in an attempt to undo the FCC’s repeal of the internet regulations known as so-called “net neutrality.” If the coalition gets one more Republican on board, then they satisfy the simple majority needed for it to pass that chamber. But even after that, for the CRA to ultimately pass, allies in the House would need several members of the House — where the Republican’s majority is far greater — to join their push. And President Donald Trump would also have to sign it even though he supported the FCC’s recent repeal. If it did manage to pass the House and Trump vetoed it, then two-thirds of both chambers would be required to overturn his decision.

Regardless of this arduous lawmaking trek set down an inauspicious path, advocacy groups like Fight for the Future, a George Soros-funded organization, are trying to move the process along with “Operation: #OneMoreVote.”

The net neutrality supporters planned protests “online and off” by, among other tactics, inundating lawmakers with phone calls and emails. Also, certain websites like Etsy, Tumblr, Vimeo and DuckDuckGo, will try to encourage visitors to join in the fight for further government intervention.

“The CRA is a simple up or down vote on the future of the free and open Internet. There are fifty US Senators who have a decision to make: are they going to listen to lobbyists who are paid to lie to them, or are they going to listen to their constituents and small businesses in their district?” Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. “Internet users need net neutrality protections now, not months or years from now as court battles play out and Congress deliberates on legislation that’s unlikely to pass, and might not protect us even if it did.”

Greer purports that any member of Congress who defies his group’s endeavors will pay the price “come election time.”

Leaders of the Democratic party, like Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California, are spending part of Tuesday advocating for the CRA, which was originally introduced by Dem. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, and disseminating material from Greer’s bloc. They and several others are holding a press conference to make their case and to try to galvanize voters ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (RELATED: Mainstream Media Constantly Cites An Activist Without Mentioning Support For A Convicted Terrorist)

Evan Greer speaking at the press event after being introduced by Sen. Markey. (Facebook Live)

Schumer wrote an op-ed for the popular tech magazine Wired, asserting that the Senate Democrats have a plan.

“The FCC’s new rule would let big corporations restrict how consumers access their favorite websites by forcing them to buy internet access in packages, paying more for ‘premium’ service, as with cable television,” Schumer wrote, referring to the repeal that reverted internet governance back to a pre-2015 framework.

“There’s a lot of this apocalyptic rhetoric around. It seems to ignore the fact that these are rules that went into effect in 2015, that we didn’t have prior to that,” said Joe Kane, tech policy analyst at the think tank R Street. “And the internet still existed. So all the great growth of all these websites we use every day happened without Title II regulation in place, so it’s kind of silly to say that if we take them away now, everything’s going to go away.” (RELATED: FCC Chair: ‘Hysterical Prophecies’ Led Dems To Almost Break The Internet In Just Two Years) 

Opponents of the CRA push, and proponents of the FCC’s rollback of the regulations, are trying to counteract those protesters with their own convince campaign.

For quite some time, the pro-net neutrality cohort seemed to be winning the battle of pitchforks and torches. Some methods included posting billboards highlighting which lawmakers were going against their wishes of thrusting the federal government at the center of internet oversight. But some unruly net neutrality supporters resorted to very vile, racist attacks against the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. There were also death threats directed at Pai and his family, including ominous notes posted just outside his home. (RELATED: Net Neutrality Supporter Charged For Allegedly Threatening To Kill US Rep From NY)

Now, FreedomWorks, a free market advocacy organization, is holding its own “Digital Day of Action,” which also encompasses the apparent partnership with certain members of Congress. While not a full-fledged press conference and rally, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are expected to participate in a Facebook live stream event on FreedomWorks’ Facebook page.

“Congressional Democrats opposing the Restoring Internet Freedom order are fighting to bring back outdated regulations designed for the days of rotary telephones – what’s so progressive about that?” asked FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon. “Grassroots America didn’t send Republicans to Congress to uphold damaging Obama-era regulations. Our Digital Day of Action is a reminder to congressional Republicans that their constituents are watching.”

FreedomWorks boasted a huge success in their campaign to communicate with congressmen, driving more than 650,000 messages to senate offices. The activists specifically targeted senators like Collins, as well as Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John Kennedy of Louisiana — two lawmakers some contend may be willing to essentially switch sides and support the CRA. (Murkowski has voiced her support for the FCC’s recent roll back).

“Our activists made it crystal clear that they do not want to return to the Obama-era regulations that decrease investment in infrastructure and technological advances,” said Brandon. “They want Internet service providers to remain under the light touch regulation that resulted in the dramatic improvement, expansion, and affordability of today.”

Broadband for America, an advocacy group representing a coalition of consumer groups and more notably internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast — which oppose increased restrictions over their industry in the original net neutrality rules mandated years ago — argues that the CRA means Congress has too much unilateral power.

“Some lawmakers and activists are attempting to do a short-cut with this CRA effort,” a Broadband for America spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “And what’s worse, it would simply reinstate Depression-era rules on the Internet — rules that have stifled investment and discouraged innovation in broadband infrastructure, particularly in rural communities.”

And Consumer Action for a Strong Economy (CASE) also chimed in.

“How many times are American consumers going to be confronted by so-called ‘consumer advocate’ groups and Democrats saying the internet is on its death bed?” CASE said in a statement. “The issue of net neutrality has gone so far off the rails of reality that the new norm is repeated Days of Action and political fear mongering, like Sen. Markey’s CRA. The reality is that Chairman Ajit Pai’s Order is about restoring internet freedom – making the internet even better, not worse through government commandeering.”

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And there are several other organizations and their respective experts saying something similar, like Americans for Tax Reform and the Mercatus Center.

“The beauty of the internet, why it’s been so transformative, it’s this global permissionless network, where you don’t need permission from a regulator, you don’t need to go to state public utility commissions to deploy new services,” said Brent Skorup, research fellow at the Mercatus Center. “Once states and governors are regulating the internet, you create splinternets. You can imagine 51 Internets, each with a different state or city regulator.”

Net neutrality advocates, like Greer and many Democrats, are worried that if the FCC isn’t given enough power to reign in massive cable companies — which constantly receive the worst consumer satisfaction ratings — then the rest of the government and its constituents will be left helpless and left to the whims of pure capitalism.

Pai and other advocates against the internet regulations, however, have long expressed the need to leave the oversight and punitive authority to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), as well as the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust enforcement arm.

And the FTC is doing exactly that. A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the federal agency dedicated to “protecting America’s consumers” is allowed to go ahead with its lawsuit against AT&T. The FTC alleges that the company deceived millions of customers by throttling computing speeds even though they thought they bought unlimited data plans.

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