It would be easy to frame the battle over net neutrality as a typical partisan dispute; Pai was named chairman by Trump, while Tom Wheeler, the chairman who pushed through the Title II reclassification, was tapped by Obama. You can also view it as a shadow war between corporate giants: Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T vehemently oppose net neutrality regulations, while companies like Google and Netflix have historically been vocal proponents.
But it’s often been everyday people who have played the most critical role in shaping the internet’s destiny.Hackers,activists,Wikipedia editors,YouTube creators, and evenJohn Oliver fanshave all played roles in influencing the trajectory of this fragile gathering place. Even though both the ISPs who build the internet’s pipes and the tech giants who organize its content are trending toward monopolization, individuals still hold a huge influence over its future.
The question in 2017 is whether they will choose to wield that influence. At a time when health care, immigration policy, and environmental regulations are all facing drastic change, convincing people they need to care about complex internet laws may prove tougher this time. And the iconic tech companies that have played key roles in generating public awareness about threats to internet freedom are increasingly positioning themselves astoo big to fail. With various competing causes and few name-brand leaders to latch onto, it’s easy to see how bills like the GOP-backed effort tolimit citizens’ internet privacymanage to slip under the radar. The new measure, which allows ISPs to sell their customers’ data to advertisers without asking for permission, likely would have caused a firestorm a year ago. Instead, it sailed through Congress in March with little deliberation.
If the internet is to be “saved,” as it has been in the past, the responsibility will fall on its everyday users — people like [Arizonan Robert] Armola. “I felt like it was my duty,” he says of his trip to the town hall. “I had a feeling that if I didn’t go, no one was going to bring it up to him.” […]