Protesters in Hadley: Keep the net neutral

  • People who support “net neutrality” regulations, which protect the rights of internet users to access different websites and services, rally in front of Verizon Wireless in Hadley, on Dec. 7, 2017. The Federal Communications Commission is considering repealing the regulations at its meeting Dec. 14. The rally was organized by activists associated with Team Internet. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people who support "net neutrality" regulations that protect the rights of internet users to access different websites and services, rally in front of Verizon Wireless in Hadley on Dec. 7, 2017. The Federal Communications Commission is considering repealing the regulations at its meeting Dec. 14. The rally was organized by by activists associated with Team Internet. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Thursday, December 14, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Dozens of people showed up outside the Verizon store in Hadley on Dec. 7 to protest the Federal Communication Commission’s proposed rule change that many see as bringing an end to net neutrality.

“Net neutrality, net net neutrality,” and “LOL. OMG. We want net neutrality” protesters chanted.

Net neutrality is a policy that prevents internet service providers from blocking content or delivering one type of content faster than another. This policy has been enshrined in FCC regulations since 2015, when the Obama-era FCC began treating internet service providers like public uitilites, thus legally making it so that ISPs could not deliver one amount of content faster than another, or prevent users from accessing content.

A proposed rule change by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, however, would repeal the utility designation. Instead, ISPs would have to be transparent about their policies, which Pai has said will allow consumers to select the plans that are best for them.

Pai has stated that such changes will free the internet from burdensome regulations and mean more and better options for consumers.

Opponents, however, have voiced fears that the repeal of this classification will create a tiered internet system, where big companies will have their content delivered swifter than their competitors, and where consumers will have to pay more to get the content they desire.

The plan is known as “The Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” and is scheduled for a vote on Dec. 14. The five-member FCC has a 3-2 Republican majority.

Pai is a former lawyer for Verizon, which is why protests at hundreds of Verizon stores nationwide on Thursday were organized by the coalition Team Internet. The coalition is a collaboration between Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund and Fight for the Future.

At the Hadley protests, at least two chants targeted Pai specifcally.

“Hey hey. Ho ho. Ajit Pai has got to go,” went one.

Most of the chants were lead by Mary Alice Crim, field director at Free Press Action Fund.

“Look at all these people,” she said, noting that Hadley is a small community, and rhetorically asking what would happen in places like San Francisco and New York City. “This is a fantastic turnout.”

She said that the goal of the protests was to create a politically untenable situation for the FCC to vote, via congressional pressure.

She noted that at least three Republican members of Congress have broken ranks so far, and that these protests kick off a planned weeklong set of protests.

Many of the protestors showed up with homemade signs. Only one person, Amy Martyn of Northampton, however, came dressed in a cat suit.

“There should be no discrimination of the information that flows on it (the internet),” said Martyn, in defense of net neutrality.

“Just to get more attention,” said Martyn, when asked why she chose to protest in a cat suit.

Protesters were also motivated by President Donald Trump.

“I’m just sick and tired of Trump and his administration,” said John Hondrogen, of Pelham.

A number of motorists honked in support of the protestors as they drove past.

University of Massachusetts Students for Net Neutrality also staged a rally in the on campus Thursday afternoon and Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz has signed onto a letter with nearly 60 other mayors condemning Pai’s proposal.

Verizon position

Staff at the Hadley Verizon store were not able to comment on the protest outside their door. However, Verizon corporate did release a statement on the national protests.

“Like those expressing their views today, Verizon fully supports an open Internet and believe consumers should be able to use it to access lawful content when, where, and how they want. We’ve publicly committed to that before and we stand by that commitment today,” reads the statement.

Verizon has also released a position statement on Pai’s proposal, in which the company voiced support for, while also stating the company’s support for net neutrality.

“Two years ago, the FCC reversed course radically and put in place a set of rules based on monopoly train and telephone regulation from previous centuries,” the statement read. “That outdated approach was unnecessary and out of step with today’s dynamic and competitive internet. It undermined investment and innovation, and posed a significant threat to the internet’s continued ability to grow and evolve to meet consumers’ needs. Now, the FCC appears poised for a much-needed return to the approach that fostered so many years of internet openness and innovation.”