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How OpenMedia fought for net neutrality!

It was a sad day for the Internet when Ajit Pai’s FCC repealed #NetNeutrality back in 2017. But the Internet and the OpenMedia community fought back. Here’s the story how we did it.

Back in 2017, president Donald Trump assigned Ajit Pai as the Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Chairman. Unlike his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, who had been an advocate for consumer rights and help put in place strong Net Neutrality protections after millions of Americans spoke out, Pai had Big Telecom’s interests at heart. So it was not long before he and his Big Telecom cronies started their attacks on the open Internet, including Net Neutrality.

Net Neutrality is a foundational principle of the open Internet that prevents Internet service providers from engaging in website blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. Without it, Big Telecom is left to control what we see and do online.

We knew what was at stake, so we launched a petition urging Chairman Pai to keep the Internet open and not undo Net Neutrality rules. We also engaged our supporters in the FCC’s consultation on Net Neutrality directly, which received millions of comments throughout the U.S. Over 6,000 comments came through OpenMedia’s online campaign. However, this commentary period was also subject to well known fraudulent efforts linked to an organization run by a former Trump campaign statewide director. It was so bad even dead people’s names were used to submit comments. (Also check out Free Press’ timeline on the FCC’s infamous fake comments saga)

To the dismay of millions of Internet users that spoke out in favour of maintaining Net Neutrality protections, in December 2017, the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—the U.S. telecom regulator—repealed Net Neutrality with Ajit Pai spearheading this unpopular decision.

The decision was a significant blow to the future of the Internet, free expression, democracy, and innovation. But as Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer noted, Net Neutrality was still far from dead at this point, given that Congress had the power to reverse this decision. How? By getting Senators to sign a Resolution of Disapproval Under the Congressional Act Review (CRA). Good news was, Net Neutrality outside of DC was a non-partisan issue—with politicians and people across the political spectrum agreeing that they didn’t want Big Telecom controlling their online experience—so we had a decent chance of passing the CRA resolution if we got enough representatives from both parties on board.

So your OpenMedia team and many other ally organizations across the United States, including Fight For the Future, EFF, ACLU, Color of Change, Demand Progress, and many more, started mobilizing to pass the CRA and undo the FCC’s unpopular Net Neutrality repeal.

In early 2018, we launched a tool that prompted people to reach out to their Congress Members directly and urge them to sign the CRA resolution. Nearly 15,000 people in the U.S. used this tool to contact their representatives. We also launched an international campaign to garner support for Net Neutrality, as the dismantling of these protections in the U.S. would have far reaching consequences for Internet users worldwide, not just in the U.S. After all, the nature of the Internet is not governed by geographical borders.

Not long after that, the Senate voted to reinstate Net Neutrality through the CRA, in a win for open Internet advocates. But now the vote had to go to the House of Representatives, where we would face an uphill battle as we would need the votes from a full majority of House members. Even if we had every single Democrat on board, we would still need the support from 22 Republicans. After this, the decision would still have to be signed by Donald Trump (who was not a fan). So you can imagine where the odds stood then.

The resolution failed in the House that year, as Republicans still held a sizable majority at the time. But this was not the end of the fight…

In March 2019, Democrats in Congress introduced the ‘Save the Internet Act’—a bill to restore Net Neutrality. Open Internet allies joined forces to mobilize thousands of people to contact their lawmakers and tell them to support the legislation. We also launched a letter to the editor to amplify the issue in different communities across the U.S.

The House voted to approve the Save the Internet Act bill, in April 2019, in an encouraging move. But it was too early to call it a victory. Senate Republicans were quick to try to block it in the Senate, with Senate leader, Mitch McConnel declaring the bill “dead on arrival”, and we needed at least four Republican members to support it. So we doubled down our efforts to flip those Senators to our side. Democratic Senator, Krysten Sinema, also sided with Republican efforts, so we built a tool enabling people to message her directly. Senate efforts to block Net Neutrality at the federal level kept strong, making the battle to restore Net Neutrality tougher and tougher.

In October 2019, the Federal Court of Appeal let the FCC kill Net Neutrality. But there was a silver lining to this discouraging ruling—the FCC could not block states like California and others from passing their own Net Neutrality laws at a local level. So this is where the fight is headed to next. 

OpenMedia has recently launched a campaign to encourage individual states to pass their own Net Neutrality laws. A full list of Net Neutrality bills tabled across the country can be found here. Our plan now is to get more and more states to pass their own Net Neutrality rules, to show the FCC that no matter what, Net Neutrality is not going anywhere. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that it will not reconsider its decision from October of last year, despite a push by tech and advocacy groups.

Thank you for all your support throughout this historic, tough battle to defend one of the building blocks of the open Internet! Stay tuned.

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