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Here’s how top tech companies will rally to support net neutrality next week

Web giants like Amazon and Google join with other sites, like OkCupid, PornHub and Vimeo, to protest the FCC’s work to undo existing rules.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Speaks At American Enterprise Institute Chip Somodevilla / Getty

Some of the internet’s biggest brands — from web giants like Amazon and Google to dating apps, porn sites and streaming-video staples — will try to mobilize their users beginning Wednesday in a bid to stop the U.S. government from scrapping its net neutrality rules.

The online protest next week is the latest attempt by Silicon Valley and its Democratic allies to thwart the Federal Communications Commission, which under its new Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, has sought to undo regulations that prevent companies like AT&T, Charter, Comcast* and Verizon from blocking or slowing down web content, including the movie or music offerings from their competitors.

Pai has stressed he supports an open internet — but he believes the existing rules, imposed during the Obama administration, are too “heavy handed.” He already has the votes at the FCC to proceed with his plans.

But liberal activists, internet companies and others — many of which lobbied intensely for the strong open internet protections that the FCC adopted in 2015 — aren’t going down without a fight. Led by the groups Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press, they’ll resume their campaign, called Battle for the Net, for a full day of activity next week in an attempt to sway the agency from its course.

“We’ve spent so much time [defending net neutrality rules] that we’re not going to go down without a fight,” said Mark Stanley, who runs communications and operations for Demand Progress. “If we can bring enough pressure to bear, we think there’s a small chance Pai will reconsider his proposal, his path forward.”

Among the participants on Wednesday is the Internet Association, the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying voice for the likes of Facebook, Google and Twitter. The group is launching a special GIF-filled website to explain the wonky history behind net neutrality, and it’ll direct visitors to the FCC so that they can file comments with the agency, which until July 17 is collecting public feedback on Pai’s plans for repeal.

Some of the Internet Association’s members, like Netflix, will also encourage their customers to view the lobbying group’s new advocacy hub next week, a spokesman said. And other tech giants belonging to the Internet Association, like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter, all confirmed to Recode they had their own plans to participate in the so-called “day of action” — but they each declined to provide additional details about their specific activities.

In the end, however, net neutrality advocates acknowledge they face an uphill battle at a Republican-dominated FCC. But they said they wouldn’t relent in a fight that’s only in its earliest stages, given the likelihood that the telecom agency’s work is likely to draw a challenge in federal court.

“Just because the votes are stacked in one way doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t show up,” said Michael Beckerman, the leader of the Internet Association.

“The FCC’s looking for comments here. They hear the comments. And also this is not going to end with the FCC,” he continued. “Unfortunately, this is an issue that has bounced back and forth between the FCC and the courts ... This is not going to be the last thing.”

Rousing online opposition is a familiar strategy for net neutrality advocates, who generated a similar groundswell — roughly four million comments in total — when the FCC last considered net neutrality in 2014. At the time, tech companies and consumer groups alike agonized for the agency, led by Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler, to subject telecom giants to utility-like regulation, an approach Wheeler ultimately adopted.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Addresses 2017 NAB Show In Las Vegas
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Serving then as a commissioner, Pai voted against the plan. Now, as chairman, he aims to roll the rules back, a move widely favored by the telecom industry. And much like before, the tech industry believes it can turn the tide if it can just rally enough public, bruising political opposition to Pai’s plans.

To that end, Mozilla will try to rile the netroots during the day of action on Wednesday through its popular Firefox browser. When users open a new tab or window, they’ll see a bulletin directing them to a special website where they can write comments to the FCC.

It’s a strategy Mozilla has adopted in the past — on issues like surveillance reform and online privacy — often with great success, said Chris Riley, the director of public policy at Mozilla. He said the bulletins had “sent tens or hundreds of thousands of eyeballs to advocacy pages.”

OkCupid plans to send a message to users of its online-dating app, encouraging them to visit Battle for the Net’s website and sound off at the FCC in defense of net neutrality. Medium will display an alert on its website, too. And Automattic, the company behind Wordpress, will arm its blog owners with a new widget: Users who turn it on will be able to display a supportive net neutrality banner on their websites, as well as a fake webpage loading sign that calls attention to the dangers of online fast and slow lanes.

The video-streaming platform Vimeo plans to feature a one-minute piece, “front and center” on its home page, explaining the importance of strong open-internet rules, said Michael Cheah, the company’s general counsel. They’ll also send viewers to the Battle for the Net website next week.

Asked about the protest, Cheah told Recode the goal is to put the FCC “on notice that you’re rolling back a popular issue.”

“This is something consumers want, the tech community wants, and you’re doing it for the benefit of a very small group of cable providers,” he said.

The online-activism site already has launched a petition — by Friday, it had 638 signatures — stressing that net neutrality is crucial for the “ability to organize grassroots movements, whether locally or across the globe.” Even PornHub is participating. It’s one of a few porn websites, in fact, planning to display a message to site viewers about the importance of strong net neutrality.

The nation’s leading ISPs, however, plan to fire back. According to sources familiar with the matter, one of the lobbying groups that represents the industry, Broadband for America, will run digital and social ads next week — complete with the requisite cat GIF — calling on Congress to pass a new law implementing net neutrality.

* Comcast, through its NBCU arm, is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this website.

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