The net neutrality fight is also about protecting your privacy online

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Joined: 01/09/2013

By Sandra Fulton, opinion contributor - 07/14/17 11:50 AM EDT

If there's anything lawmakers should have learned from activists over the past few years it's this: Do not make the internet angry.

In March, congressional Republicans once again felt the wrath of the internet community when they reversed the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules. The blowback from the vote was massive, prompting members of Congress to hide from angry constituents. Now Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai are digging even deeper and looking to overturn the historic 2015 Net Neutrality win.

If they think the internet is going to take that sitting down, they have another think coming.

The early days of the Trump administration proved catastrophic for crucial regulatory safeguards. While the news cycle was overwhelmed with stories about Neil Gorsuch, James Comey and Vladimir Putin, Republicans used a little-known procedural law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to gut protections for everything from the environment to women’s health to our online privacy rights.

Before this Congress, the CRA had been used only once. Since January, President Trump has signed 13 CRA resolutions sent up by Congress.

Despite all of the noise, the reversal of the broadband privacy rules drew attention right away. These protections rely on the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which reclassified broadband access under Title II of the Communications Act, and simply required internet service providers (ISPs) to gain their customers’ consent before sharing or selling their personal data — like their web-browsing histories.

The news of the party-line Republican vote in the Senate to overturn the rules stirred the grassroots. During the two business days between the Senate passage and the House vote, activist groups inspired tens of thousands of people to call their representatives and urge them to vote against the gutting of the internet-privacy rules.

When the House moved forward with the vote, every Democrat voted against the CRA and 15 Republicans crossed party lines to protect our privacy — no small feat in this highly partisan environment. Tea Party leader Justin Amash (R–Mich.) is no fan of government regulation, but proved even less a fan of privacy-invading technology and voted no. The same held true for the lead co-sponsor of the Email Privacy Act, Rep. Kevin Yoder (R–Kan.), and others who understand that violating their constituents’ right to privacy would not go over well.

The backlash for those who voted to reverse the rules was quick and unequivocal. Constituents heckled lawmakers at town halls and other public events. “You sold my privacy up the river!” yelled one angry voter at an event hosted by Sen. Jeff Flake (R–Ariz.), the lead sponsor of the measure in the Senate. And "Late Night" host Stephen Colbert expressed his disbelief, noting “This is what’s wrong with Washington, D.C. I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America, who asked for this.”

Grassroots group Fight for the Future put up damning billboards in members’ districts detailing the campaign contributions they had received from big cable companies — the only group poised to benefit from the rollback.

Now to net neutrality.

The internet community saw the vote against the broadband privacy rules as a first strike against the open internet and spoke out. But Republicans should realize that this was but a drop in the e-bucket of resistance they’ll face if they try to roll back net neutrality.

Two years ago, 4 million people demanded that the FCC reclassify broadband ISPs to protect net neutrality. The unprecedented public outcry forced the Commission to enact strong rules.

And the rules remain popular. A poll released just this week found that 77 percent of those surveyed support the FCC’s Open Internet Order. And that support crosses party lines, with 73 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents in favor of the rules. To be clear, the only group pushing for a repeal is big cable.

This week, the internet community and allied companies come together to remind Trump, Pai and Congress that millions of people in America have made their support for net neutrality known. They know that the repeal of net neutrality means the end of real privacy protections, means paying more for worse service — and enables companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to decide how you use the internet.

Sandra Fulton is the government relations manager for Free Press Action Fund, the national advocacy group that fights for everyone’s rights to connect and communicate. Free Press Action Fund and its partner organization Free Press don't take money from business, government or political parties.