The battle for the net rages on. Here’s what’s ahead in 2019.
Fight for the Future was founded to defend our most basic rights in the digital age. We sometimes describe that work with shorthand — we’re “saving the Internet.” But as we head into 2019, it’s increasingly clear that our mission is not simply to defend the Internet the way it is, but to fight the battles that determine what it will become. Technology can be used to accelerate progress and expand our freedom. It can also be used to violate our rights on an unprecedented scale. What we do in the coming months could shape the future of technology, and society, for generations to come.
Below is our quick take on the threats and opportunities we see ahead in 2019. But first, here are some bullets about what we’ve done so far in 2018:
- Launched three Internet-Wide Days of Action that reached millions of people and flooded lawmakers with phone calls and emails
- Organized open letters from thousands of small business owners, US veterans, and emergency first responders in support of net neutrality
- Played a crucial role in passing SB 822, the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections through the California legislature, overcoming fierce lobbying from the telecom industry
- Used peer to peer texting and other tech to mobilize an army of online volunteers who organized hundreds protests, meetings with lawmakers, letter deliveries, and other events in key Congressional districts
- Crowfunded billboards, creative media stunts, and ad buys, generating earned media in key districts
- Generated press hits in the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News, Associated Press, USA Today, Forbes, Variety, Newsweek, NPR + more
Going into 2019: Net neutrality is not dead, but the path to restoring it is getting more complex.
At a zoomed out level we’re winning the fight for net neutrality in a big way. Despite the ISPs spending hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying, astroturf, and misinformation campaigns, cross-partisan public support for strong open Internet protections remains at an all time high.
By going on the offense and fighting for the Congressional Review Act (CRA), we’ve successfully stymied the telecom industry’s grand plan and kept bad legislation in check. That’s a huge victory in and of itself, and the fact that we’ve picked up bipartisan support in both chambers dramatically changes the battlefield we’re fighting on. We need to stay on the offense as long as we can, and gain as much ground as we can in Congress, so that we’ll be in the strongest position possible when we enter the next phase of the fight.
Telecom lobbyists hoped to finish out this year with no rules at the FCC and having rammed through bad legislation that undermined net neutrality for good. Instead, we got a bipartisan majority in the Senate to rebuke them, a badass law on the books in California, legislation pending in dozens of other states, and major lawsuits hanging over their heads. Here’s what we have planned:
- Step one is a major net neutrality day of action for November 29th to make sure that Congress feels maximum pressure to restore net neutrality before we run out of time to use the Congressional Review Act. It’s going to take a herculean effort to get the remaining votes we need in this session. But even if we don’t get all the way to a majority, we need to make the most of this opportunity and get as many members of Congress on the record in support of strong net neutrality as possible before the deadline.
- To support this, we’ve launched a major crowdfunding campaign at DonateForNetNeutrality.com, where major web companies are teaming up with prominent supporters like actress Evangeline Lilly, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and EDM star Bassnectar, who are matching grassroots donations to help fund this final stage of the fight.
- If we don’t win in the lame duck, the number one priority will be to stop any legislation that would permanently undermine net neutrality. That’s the biggest danger. Ajit Pai’s repeal can be reversed by a future FCC chair. That’s why AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are lobbying so hard to use the FCC repeal as an excuse to ram through weak legislation in the name of “compromise.” If they succeed, the new law could be nearly impossible to repeal, and would do lasting damage to the open Internet. We won’t let that happen.
- We’ll keep fighting at the state level. California passed the gold standard net neutrality bill earlier this year and we played a key role in getting it through the legislature with bipartisan support. The bill faces litigation, as expected, but passing SB 822 over fierce opposition from the telecom industry was a huge victory and has a real impact keeping the ISPs in check. Several governors have taken executive action to protect net neutrality in their states, and dozens of states have introduced legislation protecting net neutrality. There are a handful of other states where strong legislation could be successful and strategic, we’re monitoring closely.
- And meanwhile, we will continue to fight for net neutrality in the courts. Ajit Pai rammed through his repeal of net neutrality so fast that he skirted all kinds of procedural steps. He actively sabotaged his own agency’s public comment process and lied to Congress about a supposed DDoS attack that never happened. That means there’s a very good chance that we might be able to get the courts to throw out Ajit Pai’s repeal, which would send the FCC back to square one.
Beyond net neutrality, there are some major fights brewing on other tech policy issues. Here are some of the most important ones we’re preparing to engage in in 2019:
- Platform censorship and content moderation. From misinformation to hate speech to election “hacking” to harassment online, there are growing calls from both left and right for platforms to do better and/or for lawmakers to step in. We’re monitoring these conversations closely, and will fight to make sure Congress and companies don’t rush toward “solutions” that do more harm than good. We think there’s a need for visionary thinking about the Internet we want, and how to protect free speech while grappling with the very real problems we’re seeing as a result of centralized social media platforms.
- Federal privacy laws. Congress is expected to deliberate over a comprehensive data protection and privacy legislation in 2019. There’s no guarantee this results in a good bill for Internet users — we’re already seeing Silicon Valley and the telecoms working together to push for weak rules and to pre-empt state-based protections — so we’ll be ready to fight hard to get the strongest protections we can.
- Media mergers. The FCC is currently reviewing a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint that, if approved, will lead to less choice, higher prices, and worse cell phone plans. It faces less corporate opposition than other mergers, which will make it harder to stop. We’re assembling a coalition of strange bedfellows who oppose the merger to take the fight to the FCC and Congress.
- Pressuring tech companies on human rights. Tech workers and Internet users are mobilizing to challenge big tech companies to do better, and refuse to build products or enter into contracts that violate human rights. Our NoTechforICE campaign, actions against Google’s Project Maven and Amazon’s facial recognition contracts, and creative protests around Salesforce’s contract with US Border Patrol has kept the issue in the news, and we plan to continue pushing against unethical uses of technology.
- Copyright. Congress will soon debate NAFTA 2.0 and we are ready to step in to prevent bad intellectual property rules from being exported to Canada and Mexico. We are also monitoring moves from ISPs like AT&T to disconnect users’ Internet access over alleged copyright infringement without due process, and continuing to build networks of creators and artists who support Internet freedom.
Given the pace of the news cycle in this space, other threats and opportunities will inevitably emerge. We stay an intentionally small team so that we can be nimble enough to respond and pivot as needed, while staying laser focused on our goals.
We’re facing off against some of the most powerful and politically entrenched companies in the world. The fight is long. But we intend to win.