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Net neutrality backers decide to 'occupy' the FCC

A small group of protestors camp out beside the FCC building and call for the agency to reregulate broadband

By Grant Gross
May 14, 2014 04:06 PM ET

IDG News Service - A small band of net neutrality advocates who have pitched their tents beside the U.S. Federal Communications Commission hope that their on-the-ground activism can counterbalance well-funded lobbying efforts by large broadband providers.

The group of protestors, which had grown from two on May 7 to about 15 Tuesday night, is calling on the FCC to regulate broadband as a common-carrier, utility-style service, as an alternative to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's recent proposal for net neutrality rules that allow broadband carriers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management.

Campout at the FCC, No. 2
Activist Yoni Galiano poses in front of a tent at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, where activists are camped in an effort to encourage the FCC to pass strong net neutrality rules.

The "Occupy the FCC" protestors, in advocating for the FCC to regulate broadband in the same way as it treats traditional telecom services, are swimming upstream against several large broadband providers and dozens of members of Congress. The FCC is scheduled Thursday to vote on whether to officially release Wheeler's proposal and open it up to public comment, and Wheeler met with the small group Wednesday morning.

By reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier telecom service, the "FCC has greater ability to regulate in the public interest," said Margaret Flowers of nearby Baltimore, an activist with PopularResistance.org who has been camping out at the FCC for a week. "We don't want to see any backroom deals cut with the telecom giants to undercut the public interest."

While Wheeler seemed to still favor his net neutrality proposal during the meeting, protestors said they believe they're having an impact on the FCC. Three of the commission's five members have talked with the protestors since last Friday.

"What we've been trying to convey to the commission is that this is an issue that, obviously, people really care about," Flowers said. "If [reclassifying broadband] isn't something the FCC moves toward, we see a real opportunity for a much stronger grassroots response. I think we're going to see this groundswell growing during the summer."

Momentum toward reclassifying broadband seems to be growing, added Kevin Huang, campaign manager with Fight for the Future, who came from San Francisco to join the encampment.

Even though the FCC and Congress have been debating net neutrality rules for years, a January decision to throw out old FCC net neutrality rules by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seems to have sparked greater public activism on net neutrality, Flowers said.

The court ruling seems to suggest that, "unless Wheeler reclassifies the Internet, he's going to have to allow Internet giants to be able to have fast lanes and slow lanes," she added.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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