By Becky Gordon
Temperatures hovered at freezing, a first frost teased the air, and a saxophone crooned a melodramatic rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as chants rose from the group.
“I say ‘Internet’, you say ‘Freedom’. Internet,” Paul Lamine, 21, said. Above his peers, his bully pulpit a milk crate and a megaphone in his mittened grasp, Lamine waited.
“Freedom,” they answered.
Among the noise and rush of downtown Ann Arbor at lunch time, this one group of many across the country staged a protest outside Verizon on Dec. 7. Their mission? Save net neutrality.
The protest was hosted one week before the Federal Communications Commision voted to repeal net neutrality. Each protest was hosted outside Verizon stores across the nation and organized by individuals through battleforthenet.com via verizonprotests.com.
“My biggest concern is that people aren’t really aware that this is being voted on. That this is going to happen,” Lamine said. “I don’t ever get involved in politics. Ever. But just the fact that this has not been getting nearly enough attention, was something that sort of struck me.”
The fate of net neutrality was decided by the FCC on Dec. 14. They voted against the protections of the net, and for Chairman Ajit Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal.
Twenty-eight Senators, including Michigan’s Gary Peters, had written to the FCC to halt the vote until after concerns involving the public comment portion of the proposal is investigated. However, the vote passed 3-2.
“I think it’s very un-American to not have net neutrality,” said Hubar.
Net neutrality is a set of principles and regulations that states Internet Service Provider’s cannot discriminate against data of any kind, requiring the open and speedy internet you are most likely familiar with.
In 2015, the FCC reclassified broadband access as a telecommunications service.
A press release from Jon Banks, senior vice president of USTelecom, said companies wished to return to the FCC’s ‘light-touch approach’ to broadband internet access. A lawsuit was filed against the FCC for its decision.
In 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the reclassification, protecting net neutrality. Temporarily, it seems.
CNN reported on May 18, 2017 that the FCC voted 2-1 to forward a proposal to scale back on net neutrality.
“This makes me feel my government’s corrupt,” Hubar said. “And I’ve not really felt that way, and I’m not a young whippersnapper.”
The protesters in Ann Arbor braved what felt like the first real day of winter to bring their message to the public. Their signs encouraged passerbys to “Honk 4 Net Neutrality”, while they cheered every beep of support the lunch time commuters had to give them.
A motley crew of protesters, they ranged in age from 1 and a half to 63. Yes, 1 and a half. Aaron Osborne came to provide his support to the cause, with his not yet 2-year-old son Dexter in tow. Dexter even brought his own sign, a beautiful mess of scribbles and color combinations only a toddler could manage.
“Well, I didn’t want to put any words in his mouth,” Aaron Osborne said.
The Osbornes’ arrival injected a measure of vigor back into the cold crowd gathered on Main Street.
“Let it be shown that the youth supports net neutrality,” Will Wallbank, 32, joked upon seeing the toddler.
Wallbank manned the milk crate podium and megaphone with a confidence borne from belief in his cause. The occasion was the first protest he’d ever attended, something he said highlighted how important the cause was.
“The internet is the most important, the easiest and most important, way to exchange information that’s ever come along. And if that information is controlled by a select few companies, then we’re all going to suffer,” Wallbank said.
One of the major concerns of net neutrality supporters is the actions that the ISPs will take without regulation. Companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast would be free to funnel traffic to particular sites, and strangle internet speeds to others.
On Dec. 11 the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC jointly announced they would be engaged in coordinated efforts to police the internet following the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality rules.
However, the agreement the FTC and the FCC made is lacking in protections against slowed service or blocked sites by ISPs. No, the agreement merely requires transparency on the ISPs part, meaning they can block or favor certain sites, as long as they inform their customers that’s what they intend to do.
“Once this happens, once the FCC repeals net neutrality, it’ll be very hard to go back,” said Wallbank.