Liz McIntyre

@LizMcIntyre

Why the rollback of net neutrality sucks if your vacuum cleaner doesn’t. Seriously.

This true story I’m about share has a happy ending thanks to net neutrality.

But future tales might not end so well if New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has his way. You see, Pai wants to roll back Title II net neutrality rules that act like the First Amendment of the Internet, ensuring equal access and equal opportunity for all.

Relatives are coming. Relatives are coming!

Short-notice visits by discerning relatives make me frantic because cleaning house is low on my list of priorities. Bloodhounding corporate shenanigans and exposing privacy pitfalls are more my thing. So dust bunnies breed uninterrupted at my house unless there’s a compelling reason to help them move on.

The good thing about putting off cleaning until the very last moment is that I have no choice but to compress days of toil into a few hours of breathless labor. Then it becomes a tactical challenge rather than dragged-out drudgery.

A vacuum cleaner is a key piece of equipment in my arsenal. If it breaks down, my cleaning campaign can go south very quickly, as I experienced one holiday with just a few hours to doorbell time.

Neat nick I’m not, but resourceful I am. When my vacuum cleaner stopped sucking, I headed to the net, where I rule when it comes to research.

In just a few clicks I found a vacuum cleaner angel who was inspired to predict my predicament and post a remedy online.

With a bit of minor disassembly, a barbecue skewer and pluck, I dislodged an obstruction where I never would have known to look, pressed reset, and was back to Hoovering.

Uncle Larry enjoying the chicken kebabs from a recipe I found online

In a post-net-neutrality world this might have turned out quite differently.

In a world where ISPs and big companies rule, a fix-it site, replete with DIY manuals, might be considered an enemy of the bottom line. After all, wouldn’t it be more profitable for Madison Avenue to spam me with ads for new vacuum cleaners or maid services rather than help me surf to self-help heaven?

Sites that help people fix things like vacuum cleaners, computers, cars and other consumer products could be hard to find in a future without net neutrality, notes Kay-Kay Clapp, Director of Communications for iFixit.com, a website I’ve consulted for repairs on everything from laptops to lawnmowers.

In 2016 iFixit helped almost 100 million people fix their stuff instead of replacing it, Kay-Kay told me. She added,“Without net neutrality, those 100 million people could have a lot harder time finding the information they need.”

If we give ISPs the power to determine what content people can see and how fast websites load, she fears “companies with deep pockets can afford to pay for special fast-lane prioritization — tilting the odds in their favor. Free information-sharing websites, like iFixit, could be left in the dust.”

Of course, in that case, I could be left in the dust, as well. Let’s not let that happen!

On July 12 the Internet rallied to save net neutrality.

Netizens and conscientious companies like Netflix, Medium, StartPage.com, Brave, Vivaldi, BestVPN, iFixit and organizations like Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, Free Press, Access Now, PrivacyToolsIO, the ACLU, EFF and many more united in a “Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.”

Together, we shined a light on attempts to steal the freedom and diversity of the Internet we currently enjoy so it can remain the world’s biggest open market and the world’s largest town square.

We demanded a level Internet playing field where sites like iFixit and others we’ve come to love and rely upon have a fighting chance to be heard along with Fortune 500 companies and other power brokers. We championed an Internet where all of us decide what we see online, rather than let cable company CEOs decide for us.

The people’s campaign was a great success:

  • More than 5 million emails were sent to Congress
  • Well over 10 million people saw the protest messages on participating websites
  • The #NetNeutrality hashtag trended on both Facebook and Twitter
  • More than 125,000 websites, people, artists, online creators, and organizations signed up to participate in the initial call to protest

Awareness was taken to the next level with celebrities flocking to support the effort including Pearl Jam, Wil Wheaton, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Blues Traveler, Steven Fry, Mark Ruffalo, Laura Jane Grace, Kendrick Sampson, Amanda Palmer, Ted Leo, Samantha Bee, and many more.

There was broad participation from every corner of the Internet, from online gaming communities to librarians to real estate sites to grassroots organizations to independent musicians.

Fight for the Future noted that the volume of participation was so high that the FCC had to “rate limit” comments into their docket, queuing them up for submission by the initial July 17 deadline. The same was true for comments to members of Congress, which had to be delivered over several days because of the sheer numbers.

Organizers were thrilled with initial estimates that over 2 million comments were sent to the FCC (nearly tripling the September 2014 “Internet Slowdown” record for most in a single day). But that number ballooned during the “reply comment period” that was to end August 16. Because of public pressure, the FCC was forced to extend that comment period to August 30. At this writing there are still several days left and already 20 million comments have been posted.

Activists up the ante.

Citizens have made it clear they will not cede the Internet to corporate interests, but FCC Chairman Agit Pai seems determined to ignore the public outcry. In response, activists have begun applying pressure to members of the US Congress by posting an online scorecard to let citizens know their representatives’ positions on net neutrality, organizing face-to-face meetings with representatives, and even erecting billboards shaming those who support Pai’s plan to roll back Net Neutrality protections.

Here’s what’s next.

The FCC’s next open meeting is scheduled for September 28, and activists believe the Commission will announce that their final vote on the net neutrality repeal will take place in October at the following open meeting.

I’ll be watching closely along with other consumers to see if Ajit Pai respects the overwhelming wishes of the people. Let’s hope he leaves Title II net neutrality rules in place so vacuum cleaners and other appliances around the world can keep on keeping on — and so the Internet can remain awesome.

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Image credits: Parilov/BigStock.com, Taborsky/BigStock.com, Radist/BigStock.com, Eileen Holl/Elnur/BigStock.com, iFixit, Fight For The Future

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