PITTSFIELD, Mass. — More than 40 bundled-up Berkshire citizens gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Pittsfield Verizon store last Thursday evening, holding home-made placards and signs, to join tens of thousands of others for a day of peaceful protests at more than 600 Verizon store locations across the country.
The issue at hand — one they insist affects everyone — is an upcoming congressional vote on the Federal Communications Commission's plan to repeal the rules that currently restrict how large broadband companies can control their users' access.
Eileen Raab, who organized the Pittsfield rally, said she was "very pleased with the turnout. Members of Pittsfield United and Greylock Together made this event a success. We all need to stand up for net neutrality and protect freedom of speech on the Internet."
Thursday's rally was part of Net Neutrality Call for Action held across the country — and the internet — to raise awareness of the impending vote that could change how Americans use and access the World Wide Web.
Local Greylock Together member Jessica Dils, in thanking the Indivisible Pittsfield members for their solidarity, stressed that net neutrality "is critical to our democracy and the open access to the information we often take for granted."
The internet, originally founded on an idea called net neutrality, has until now been governed by a set of legal protections referred to as "Title Two," preventing companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from blocking or censoring websites (or levying extra fees), restricting app use and online services, or otherwise interfering with online traffic through the "throttling back" of connection speeds.
The new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai (previously a top lawyer at Verizon) has scheduled a Dec. 14 vote to kill net neutrality — what has been called "the First Amendment of the internet" through protecting free speech in the digital age, giving more people a voice than ever before and being used as a critical platform for organizing.
Barbara van Schewick, a Stanford Law School professor and director of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, writes that Pai's plan "discards decades of careful work by FCC chairs of both political parties, who recognized and acted against the danger internet service providers posed to the free markets that rose out of and depend on the Internet. If his plan takes effect, ISPs would be free to disrupt how the Internet has worked for 30 years."
Verizon has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists, campaign contributions and think tanks to spread misinformation against net neutrality and create a corporate-managed internet, Evan Greer, campaign director for Fight for the Future, said the goal of the store protests was to "shine light on this corruption, and to urge local communities to do something about it."
And though little publicized, once the FCC intentions were clear the public outcry "has been deafening" said Free Press Action Fund Field Director Mary Alice Crim.
"The phones are ringing off the hook on Capitol Hill, as people urge Congress to put the public need for an open internet
first. It's changing many minds in Washington," she said.
Congress has the power to force Pai to cancel the vote and nine out of Massachusetts' 11 House legislators have already come out firmly against Pai's move (see battleforthenet.com/#scoreboard). Dozens of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have now taken stands against the FCC plan.
"The past week has shown that people across the country reject the ongoing love affair between these ISPs and DC policymakers," Demand Progress Director of Communications Mark Stanley said. "Democrats and Republicans alike are willing to take actions to protect their online rights."
Anyone can let their representatives in Washington know what they think.
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