Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter are joining startups and activists for a major online rally today in support of net neutrality, even though the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is barreling toward easily scrapping the government’s existing rules in the coming months.
At the moment, the fate of the debate hardly seems in doubt: The FCC under its new Republican leader, Chairman Ajit Pai, seeks to eliminate the specific, tough open internet protections implemented during the Obama administration, which prevent the likes of AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon from blocking or slowing down access to web content.
But many of the internet’s most recognizable brands — along with their champions in the halls of the U.S. Congress and beyond — still are mounting a protest, beginning in the early hours of Wednesday morning, hoping they might generate enough political pressure to sustain a fight that’s been stacked against them since President Donald Trump won the White House.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for one, offered his own personal appeal. “Right now, the FCC has rules in place to make sure the internet continues to be an open platform for everyone. At Facebook, we strongly support those rules,” he wrote in a post on the site. The company’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, also published an update defending the government’s net neutrality rules.
Twitter began with a blog post around midnight that claimed it is “entirely possible” the company would not have survived without strong open-internet protections. It also promoted a special #netneutrality hashtag in its trending sidebar, marking the first time the company had ever promoted a tweet related to one of its public policy positions, it confirmed to Recode.
Along with its own blog post, Google sent an email to users who had previously signed up to receive policy action alerts from the company. Its message encouraged supporters to “tell everyone that you want to keep the internet free and open.” A spokeswoman did not specify how many web users are signed up to receive Google’s so-called “take action” dispatches.
Others, like OkCupid, warned users of the dating app about the threats posed by efforts to compromise net neutrality. A slew of porn websites, including PornHub, tried to rile their own users about a looming repeal of the rules. Mozilla posted bulletins in its Firefox web browser that encouraged users to sound off at the FCC. The owner of Wordpress sought to offer a widget so that the service’s bloggers could help mobilize readers to take action.
And the Internet Association, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group for Facebook, Google and other top tech giants, created a new advocacy web page helping concerned visitors share their views with the FCC, as first reported by Recode.
Some of the association’s members, including Netflix, pitched that hub to its customers. So did Amazon, where visitors logged into the website saw a link to the net neutrality campaign on the e-commerce giant’s home page. Late Tuesday night, Spotify also had added a banner atop its U.S.-based home page directing users to the Internet Association site. Even the Amazon-owned video game streaming website Twitch pointed its 4.3 million Twitter followers that way.
For all its efforts, though, the odds are not in the favor of Silicon Valley and others aligned with Battle for the Net, a coalition led by the liberal advocacy groups Free Press, Fight for the Future and Demand Progress. Despite their work to rally the netroots — and the startups and companies that web users recognize most — Pai at the FCC already has the votes to eliminate the government’s existing net neutrality rules.
As a commissioner, Pai voted against a plan adopted by Democrats in 2015 to safeguard net neutrality by subjecting broadband providers to some of the same regulations that apply to old-school telephone companies. At the time, he argued those rules were too onerous.
Now serving as the FCC’s leader, Pai has targeted those open internet protections as part of a broader effort to deregulate the telecom industry — all the while maintaining a belief that the internet should be free from interference. But Pai has not yet settled on what rules, if any, he might adopt in their place. For now, his FCC is only seeking the public’s views until July 17.
In the meantime, his opponents — the most vocal, ardent supporters of tough net neutrality regulation — are sounding off. Among the companies participating are big brands, like Etsy, Expedia, Kickstarter and Reddit. Others, like Snap, are supporting the so-called “day of action,” at least in spirit.
Yelp, meanwhile, tweaked its logo to reflect an internet-loading wheel. Clicking on it took visitors to a blog post where the company detailed its support for net neutrality — and took aim at its chief corporate foe, Google.
“We want to keep the internet open and fair for everyone, which means ensuring that ISPs and other dominant platforms — like Google — prioritize consumers,” Yelp wrote. The company had been one of the chief antagonists for an antitrust probe of Google in Europe.
Startups through their D.C.-focused advocacy groups, like Engine, also pledged to get involved, and a coterie of members of Congress, all Democrats, said they would hold a press conference outside of the U.S. Capitol later in the day to stress their support for the open internet.
“Republicans definitely have the votes at the FCC right now, but it doesn’t mean it’s a 100 percent foregone conclusion,” said Mark Stanley, a top aide at Demand Progress, one of the protest organizers.
Rather, Stanley likened it to Republicans’ attempts to overturn health care reform. At first, the GOP “ostensibly had the votes to overturn Obamacare.” In reality, though, it’s proven to be anything other than a “foregone conclusion,” he said.
Probably, net neutrality advocates still won’t sway Pai. Instead, some organizers hope they can generate enough backlash — adding to more than 6.1 million comments already shared with the FCC, as of late Tuesday — to help them later challenge the FCC’s repeal efforts in federal court. They’re also seeking to pressure Congress into adopting a new, more lasting net neutrality law, an idea that even has the support of some in the telecom industry.
That includes AT&T, which sought to co-opt the net neutrality rally by pledging its support for the concept — but not the government’s existing rules. One of the telecom sector’s trade groups, Broadband for America, also purchased ads in Washington, D.C., calling on federal lawmakers to proffer new open internet rules.
Entering the Wednesday war, many net neutrality supporters recalled a similar internet protest begun in 2015 that helped push the FCC, then under the leadership of Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, to adopt the rules currently in place.
Embedded just as deeply in the contemporary lore of the internet are the 2012 web protests around the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Then, companies like Google and Wikipedia mounted a first-of-its-kind web uprising to highlight their opposition to the copyright-reform bill. Lawmakers unexpectedly and quickly reversed their course and dumped the once-bipartisan measure — and the tech industry’s swift success at the time remains the ideal, but often unattainable, high bar for lobbying the government.
“I definitely think helping policymakers in D.C., in the FCC, in Congress, on both sides of the political aisle — helping them understand how important and how impactful of an issue this is — is the game,” said Chris Riley, the director of public policy at Mozilla.
* Comcast, through its NBCU arm, is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.