With less than two weeks until the end of the comment period on proposed Internet regulations, both sides of the debate are pushing publicity campaigns aimed at swaying the net neutrality debate.
The battle has coalesced around a particular issue: the reclassification of broadband Internet, a move that would either maintain an open and equal web or destroy it, depending on which side of the debate is lobbying. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has publicly stated that it could vote to reclassify broadband as a utility, bringing Internet providers under more stringent regulations.
A new “don’t break the Internet” campaign launched on Tuesday with a website that seeks to push back against calls for the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify. Drawing on the words of net neutrality advocates like Tim Wu, Lawrence Lessig and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the site makes plain its stance at the top.
“Dear Mr. Chairman, don’t break the Internet! Cat videos aren’t megawatts and the net’s not a series of tubes, so don’t treat it like a utility,” the post states alongside Photoshopped images of the FCC chairman with cats.
The FCC is currently considering new regulations about how data flows on the Internet, an issue that has sparked debate about the role or regulation and Internet providers. Advocates of net neutrality — which dictates that all data should be treated equally so as to maintain and open and competitive Internet — have called for the FCC to consider the Internet a utility, which would bring it under more stringent regulation. The deadline for comments on the FCC’s proposed Internet regulation and replying to earlier comments is Sept. 15.
The initial draft of the rules built in allowances for “commercially reasonable” deals between content providers and Internet companies. This allowance caused a flood of concern from net neutrality advocates who worried this could lead to “fast lanes” that would make the Internet more similar to cable television.
Those concerns led to calls for the FCC to change how it regulates the Internet by switching to “Title II,” which would treat it similar to utilities.
The “don’t break the Internet” campaign is backed by TechFreedom, a nonprofit think tank that says it is backed by Internet providers as well as content providers. It is calling for congressional action to limit FCC power and explicitly detail how it can regulate the Internet.
“Democrats and Republicans should join in a bipartisan compromise that sets out clear, but specific and narrow, authority over core net neutrality concerns. Congress should bar the FCC from ever applying Title II to the Internet,” the site states.
There is no shortage of advocates of reclassification. Democratic Senator Carl Levin is the most recent politician to back reclassification, stating it is “the best and clearest way to ensure an open and free Internet.”
Fight for the Future, another nonprofit think tank “dedicated to protecting and expanding the Internet’s transformative power,” has organized an “Internet slowdown” on Sept. 10 to bring attention to the issue.
“On Sept. 10th, sites across the web will display an alert with a symbolic ‘loading’ symbol (the proverbial “spinning wheel of death”) and promote a call to action for users to push comments to the FCC, Congress, and the White House,” the site states.
The final push over net neutrality comes after a particularly active comment period, including a John Oliver video that went viral and sparked thousands of comments through the FCC’s online system.
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for government accountability and transparency, found that around two-thirds of comments were against allowing content providers to pay for better service and about the same number supported reclassification.
The study found that those against some effort to ensure an open and fair Internet were in the extreme minority.
“We estimate that less than 1 percent of comments were clearly opposed to net neutrality,” the organization wrote in a post.