Net neutrality repeal elicits local protest
A crowd of protesters braced and bundled against the cold on Thursday, Dec. 7, gathered to denounce the FCC’s decision to vote to repeal net neutrality. Car horns sounded amidst chants and cheers in the late evening air as traffic zipped by protesters with their signs raised high.
Around 80 people gathered at this event, organized via social media, to rally at the sidewalk near the Verizon-affiliated Cellular Sales store on Sunset Avenue.
The organizer for the rally was Phil Rose, he stood wearing a frayed neon yellow scarf that read “police line: do not cross,” and handed signs to protesters as they approached.
“We are here to fight for equal access to the internet,” Rose said. “We want everybody to have equal speed and not to be slowed down for monetary or political reasons, whether they be left wing or right wing. I want to get money out of politics, because nothing can change as long as all our politicians are bought.”
Federal net neutrality regulations mean that internet service providers must treat all content on the internet equally. It ensures consumers cannot be blocked from or billed extra for online content by their service providers.
Several Western students attended the rally. One was senior sociology major Christopher Maness.
“Net neutrality basically winds up protecting free speech,” Maness said. “[With net neutrality laws in place] everyone gets equal access to information, so they’re able to create their own opinions. However, if these companies can charge people for information or to go to different sites, they can’t inform their opinions as fully as before. So that actually impedes democratic process and discussion.”
Maness has a message for the members of the FCC.
“It’s not your internet,” he said.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC who endorses the elimination of net neutrality regulations, formerly served as Associate General Counsel for Verizon. The rally participants in Bellingham joined protesters nationwide at Verizon stores as part of a national campaign.
“We don’t want Verizon or Comcast or any of the big players to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t,” Rose said.
Not everyone relished the idea of protesting at Verizon locations.
Sam Robertson, a Western student, posted on the Bellingham protest’s group Facebook page: “Why do it at the stores? I feel like a phone bank at a community center would be infinitely more effective than yelling at minimum wage employees.”
Protester Dana Riggs, a former telecommunications officer in the U.S. Air Force, took his plea to protect net neutrality to a manager inside the Cellular Sales location. He was asked politely to leave the private property.
“When I was first in the military in 1974, I realized what a great communications medium the internet could become,” Riggs said. “The internet has become the modern-day version of the telephone network. And for corporations to turn around and take a government funded system and try to throttle who gets access, how fast or slow they get it, is just contrary to, not only the First Amendment, but probably a whole lot of other things.”
Many in attendance danced and cheered as the night went on. But through the buzz of excitement and community, for some, there was an underlying frustration.
“Everything is shit right now. It’s very easy to despair,” Rose said. “To sit around in your house and go, ‘well, I guess Donald Trump is just going to end up eviscerating us all, literally.’ So, I thought we might as well do something.”