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Protests mount online and offline over impending FCC Net Neutrality vote

By Malcolm Owen

The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a possible repeal of net neutrality rules later today, but as the decision-making time draws closer, Internet users continue to fight the proposals of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, taking to Twitter and protesting outside government buildings to pass the message and attempt to influence the result.

The vote, which seeks to reverse Obama-era rules that forces Internet providers to handle all data equally, is set to take place on Thursday at 10:30am ET (7:30 am PT). It is believed that the Republican-dominated FCC will vote in favor of the rollback, with Chairman Pai and Commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr backing Pai's proposal.

In the final minutes before the vote, Internet denizens are attempting to make themselves heard by congregating outside government buildings. The protests have also taken place outside the FCC itself, with citizens bearing signs urging the FCC to reconsider, among other attempts to get the message out.

Protestors have also congregated outside major businesses that would be affected by the decision, including stores for national carrier Verizon.

Online, concerned parties are spreading around messages in images warning of the vote and its potential consequences if it passes. Some users on Twitter are also circulating the contact details for the five-member FCC board, asking others to make contact by tweets, e-mails, and by phone calls.

The online protests are not limited to private individuals, with prominent figures also passing comment. Governor Tom Wolf (Dem, PA) tweeted a link for constituents to look up their members of Congress and to "tell them to oppose the FCC decision to the end."

Announced on November 21, Pai's proposal eliminates the rules put in place by the FCC in 2015 that enables net neutrality. The proposal removes the classification of Internet service providers as a common carrier, stripping the legal authority of the FCC to regulate the behavior of providers, and opening up the possibility of so-called Internet "fast lanes."

The previous FCC board "imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet," said Pai at the time of the proposal, claiming it "depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation." The proposal would keep the federal government from "micromanaging the Internet," claimed the chairman, with the rules instead requiring transparency from providers about their practices.

The FCC will also neuter its supervisory powers under the proposal, passing to the Federal Trade Commission the task of suing companies that break promises made in statements to the public.

Apple has previously written to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality, declaring "Apple remains open to alternative sources of legal authority, but only if they provide for strong, enforceable, and legally sustainable protections, like those in place today. Simply put, the internet is too important to consumers and too essential to innovation to be left unprotected and uncertain."

The vote will be available to watch in a live stream from the FCC website.

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