Hollywood joined forces Tuesday with Democrats vowing to fight Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal net neutrality, an Obama-era rule once described by Sen. Ted Cruz as “Obamacare for the internet.”
An alliance of celebrities, progressives and liberal lawmakers denounced Mr. Pai’s draft plan to dismantle the 2015 Title II regulations, enacted to ensure that high-speed internet providers treat web traffic equally and prevent them from charging different prices for different services.
“Taking away #NetNeutrality is the Authoritarian dream,” said actor Mark Ruffalo, who stars as the Hulk in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Comedian Patton Oswalt urged foes to “bombard” Mr. Pai with messages against the draft proposal.
“I know. We’ve faced a lot of issues threatening our democracy in the last year,” actress Alyssa Milano tweeted. “But honestly, the @FCC and @AjitPaiFCC’s dismantling of #NetNeutrality is one of the biggest. THIS IS A HUGE DEAL.”
The outcry is unlikely to sway Mr. Pai, who decried net neutrality as “heavy-handed, utility-style regulations” that have stymied investment, deterred innovation and placed the federal bureaucracy in charge of the internet.
He described the FCC’s party-line vote two years ago under pressure from President Obama to impose the regulatory framework as a mistake.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Mr. Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
His draft, which he shared Tuesday with the other four commissioners, would also increase transparency by restoring the oversight role of the Federal Trade Commission.
“Additionally, as a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015,” Mr. Pai said. “Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.”
Democrats were not convinced. “The FCC is siding with big corporations by releasing a plan to claw back #NetNeutrality rules,” said Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, New York Democrat. “They were hoping you wouldn’t notice. We must fight back to defend a free and open internet.”
Net neutrality may not be a burning issue for most voters, but it became a cause celebre in Hollywood in part after comedian John Oliver began championing the rule as host of “Last Week Tonight” in 2014.
NARAL Pro-Choice America said the proposed repeal “would make it harder to get information on how and where to access abortion. And it will make it harder for activists to organize against Trump’s anti-choice, racist, extremist agenda.”
How? NARAL said the Title II rule change would allow “extremists to pay to block access to accurate information about reproductive health” by loosening rules on internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast.
Republicans have dismissed the uproar as politically motivated fearmongering, pointing out that the rules established under President Clinton were in place for nearly 20 years, prompting $1.5 trillion in investment and resulting in what Mr. Pai called “an internet economy that became the envy of the world.”
“Some of America’s greatest companies were born on the internet,” Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican, said in a statement. “By dismantling harmful internet regulations, American companies will have an open internet that allows their business, and our economy, to grow.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, called the 2015 rules “a solution in search of a problem that didn’t exist” and described them as “1930s-era utility-style regulations [that] have no business being applied to the internet in the 21st century.”
The only disagreement among Republicans came from those who have advocated for a legislative solution rather than an FCC vote that could easily be overturned under a Democratic administration.
“The last administration’s approach of regulating the internet with Depression-era phone rules is deeply flawed,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. “While I support Chairman Pai’s efforts as an improvement, I still strongly believe the only way to create long-term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law.”
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, introduced legislation in May to scrap the rule requiring internet service providers to treat all web traffic the same. House Republicans passed a bill to do so in April 2016.
“Now is the time to end government micromanagement of the internet and let it thrive without federal, state, or local meddling,” Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, said in a tweet.
The proposed rule change is expected to pass, given that two of the commission’s five members — Mr. Pai and Michael O’Rielly — voted against net neutrality when it came up for a vote in 2015, and a third, Commissioner Brendan Carr, has said he would vote for the repeal.
“I look forward to casting my vote in favor of restoring the 20-year, bipartisan approach under which the free and open internet flourished,” Mr. Carr said in a Tuesday statement.
The commission’s Democrats, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, are expected to vote against the proposal. Ms. Rosenworcel tweeted, “Time to call foul. Time to raise a ruckus. Time to save #NetNeutrality.”
The trade group USTelecom, whose members include AT&T and Verizon, praised the proposed repeal, telling AdAge that the “removal of antiquated, restrictive regulations will pave the way for broadband network investment, expansion and upgrades.”
Meanwhile, progressive activist groups, including Demand Progress and Fight for the Future, announced a nationwide protest Dec. 7 at Verizon stores.
Actress Piper Perabo asked “why are you trying to ruin our internet?” while Bill Prady, executive producer of “The Big Bang Theory,” called it “the end of the free and open internet.”
“Why is the #NetNeutrality disaster being rolled out at Thanksgiving?” asked Mr. Prady. “To prevent online retailers from engaging in protests that would affect holiday sales.”
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